Date of Award:

2017

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

Julie Young

Abstract

The extent to which predators regulate prey populations remains a subject of debate. Yet, when predator control is employed as a management strategy, it is often assumed that predators can and do regulate prey populations. From 2011 through 2015, I monitored the demography and space use of coyotes (Canis latrans) and cougars (Puma concolor) on Monroe Mountain in Fishlake National Forest, Utah as part of a larger collaboration investigating the impacts of coyote aerial control on mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) neonate survival. My primary objective was to assess the impacts of anthropogenic regulation on the respective populations and identify any cascading effects relevant to mule deer management. To meet this objective, I established a monitoring program for both predators by deploying radio-telemetry collars (VHF and GPS) on each, documented predation events, established surveys for small mammals and lagomorphs to monitor primary prey populations during deer parturition (June – August), and collected data on the location and demographic composition of winter-removed coyotes. I analyzed these data primarily in a community-based, animal movement and resource selection framework permitting the integration of data from multiple sources. When evaluating coyote aerial removal as a management strategy, I identified a spatial dependency in the ability to match removals with indices of deer recruitment as Wildlife Services Operations personnel were primarily limited by terrain and tree cover. Thus, matching treatment with deer fawning was highly variable with only a small number of sites where removals were effective. In addition, I found that coyotes selected for sites with the highest densities of lagomorphs while avoiding areas with a high probability of encountering cougars. Coyotes did not select for mule deer fawning sites, although individual coyotes that occupied resource-poor home ranges were more likely to do so. Cougars strongly selected for mule deer high use areas throughout much of the year, only switching to elk (Cervus elaphus) during the cougar harvest season (i.e., winter). Data from cougar kill site investigations match the observed patterns in cougar space use. My results suggest that predator-prey processes are multi-dimensional and dynamic through time, which likely contribute to the lack of resolution regarding the efficacy of predator control and the regulatory potential of predators in general.

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