How Do Coyotes Really Impact Whitetails?

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Coyotes are, arguably, the smartest animals in North America.

A new study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management gives an interesting look at how coyotes impact whitetail numbers.

The expansion or recovery of predators can affect local prey populations. Since the 1940s, coyotes (Canis latrans) have expanded into eastern North America where they are now the largest predator and prey on white‐tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). However, their effect on deer populations remains controversial. We tested the hypothesis that coyotes, as a novel predator, would affect deer population dynamics across large spatial scales, and the strongest effects would occur after a time lag following initial coyote colonization that allows for the predator populations to grow.

We evaluated deer population trends from 1981 to 2014 in 384 counties of 6 eastern states in the United States with linear mixed models. We included deer harvest data as a proxy for deer relative abundance, years since coyote arrival in a county as a proxy of coyote abundance, and landscape and climate covariates to account for environmental effects. Overall, deer populations in all states experienced positive population growth following coyote arrival. Time since coyote arrival was not a significant predictor in any deer population models and our results indicate that coyotes are not controlling deer populations at a large spatial scale in eastern North America.

Coyotes are controversial in many areas due to the fact they are known deer predators but modern science is giving a different look a this often maligned creature.

There is no question predator control is a necessary part of wildlife management in some areas where animals that have been eliminated from that region are being restocked. Examples would be bighorn sheep and wild turkeys. Whitetails however have proven resilient and it seems their interaction with coyotes is more complex than most of could have ever imagined.

The idea of a coyote killing a deer might drive you nuts but at the very least you have to respect their abilities.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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