PSU Deer Study

We’ve written about how widespread Pennsylvania’s predators are, and which ones we detected the most. Cool stuff but the key piece of the puzzle seems to be habitat for fawns and predators. 

We were more likely to get pictures of black bears inside the state forest, in forest stands with shrubby understory. Think of those impenetrable mountain laurel thickets. Plenty of places to hide and take a nap.

trail cam bear

Coyotes, as opposed to black bears, preferred state forest stands without mountain laurel…in fact, without much brush at all. They liked things open and airy.  Coyotes prefer to look for their prey whether it be a fawn or a squirrel.  Unlike the ambling black bear, coyotes chase their prey.  Less understory equals less obstacles to negotiate. 

Bobcats, which are ambush predators, keyed in on all kinds of understory. As long as there was a place hide and wait for prey to pass (think your cat hiding under a bed ready to pounce on your foot), bobcats were happy.

trail cam bobcat

So, what about fawns? In general, prey (like fawns) see their homes as a type of checkerboard, filled with squares that are “safe” and “unsafe”. Whether a square is safe or not depends on the presence of a predator.  It makes sense for prey try to avoid unsafe squares with predators. This phenomenon, where prey behavior is based on the choices of predators, is called “the landscape of fear”.

Well, fawns take to heart the “landscape of fear” phenomenon. We were way more likely to get a picture of a fawn in areas where there was human activity than where their was not. They basically favored forested areas outside the state forests.

Why?  Well, the landscape of fear isn’t limited to prey. Predators also alter their behavior in response to fear, and all–from black bears to bobcats–fear the ultimate predator in Pennsylvania: people. Does took advantage of that fear and decided to keep their fawns close to areas with plenty of people so they could raise them in relative safety.

trail cam doe & fawn

The enemy of my enemy is certainly my friend.

-Asia Murphy
Ph.D. graduate student
Ecology Program
PA Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Previous articles in this series:

Fawns, Predators, and Deer Populations-what’s the bottom line on fawn survival?
Bunches, Heaps, and Gobs of Fawns
Land of the Living
A Million Ways to Die
Don’t Run that Way
Who’s Eating Bambi? – North America Edition
All Good Things
Time May Change Me

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