Using sterilization to change predation rates of wildcoyotes: A test case involving pronghorn fawns

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Applied Animal Behaviour Science





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Surgical sterilization of coyotes (Canis latrans) reduced their predation rate on domestic sheep. We investigated whether sterilizing coyotes would similarly change coyote predation rates on pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) neonates. From May 2006 to March 2008, we radio-collared 71 pronghorn fawns to determine survival rates in southeast Colorado, USA. During the first year of the study, all coyotes were reproductively intact. During the second year, we surgically sterilized 15 coyotes from 10 packs in the southern half of the study area, while nine coyotes from seven packs in the northern half were given sham sterilizations (i.e., remained reproductively intact). In addition, we estimated the availability of alternative prey and coyote density on both areas to evaluate predator–prey factors that could interact with the sterilization treatment. Using the known fate model in Program Mark, we constructed models with and without a treatment effect, plus year, area, individual covariates, alternative prey indices, and predator density to estimate pronghorn fawn survival rates. Results from model averaged parameter estimates and cumulative summer survival indicated coyote sterilization increased survival rates of pronghorn fawns by reducing predation rates of fawns. While fawn survival was higher overall in the north area, after treatment was applied, cumulative pronghorn fawn survival during the summer of 2007 in the south area was 242% higher for pronghorn fawns captured in sterile coyote territories (0.44; 79-day interval survival rate) compared to fawns captured in intact coyote territories (0.18). There was also a significant local area effect, but no relationship between fawn survival and individual fawn covariates of sex, birth weight, birth date, or age. No relationship was detected between fawn survival and lagomorph abundance index, rodent abundance index, or coyote density. Surgical sterilization of coyotes was useful in reducing predation rates on pronghorn fawns.