Understanding prey selection by predators is a fundamental goal in ecology because it represents an essential ecological process influencing behavior, community structure, and ecosystem productivity.
In a new paper published Wednesday in PLOS One, researchers explore how environmental factors like vegetation density, time of year, and home range size influence prey use by southeastern coyotes.
“We found that coyote packs relied mostly on deer, rabbits, and small mammals,” explained lead author of the study, Joseph Hinton, PhD of Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia.
Previous studies suggest that coyote predation of white-tailed deer in the southeastern
United States occurs primarily on fawns during the summer months, that predation on
adult deer is low, and most consumption of deer during winter is a result of scavenging – eating the carcasses discarded by deer hunters.
Hinton’s study, however, reveals that “adult deer were consumed year-round, indicating that coyotes are procuring deer via predation.” Additionally, his findings suggest that “the use of fruit by coyotes was opportunistic, as the use of mammalian prey did not appreciably decrease with increasing use of fruit.”
These findings are novel because they suggest that the diets of southeastern coyotes consist primarily of mammalian prey procured through predation and not scavenging.