, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 147-156

Do pronghorn mothers reveal the locations of their hidden fawns?

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Summary

Success of the ‘hider’ strategy in ungulates depends, in part, on the mother's ability to minimize information she transmits about her young's hiding place while remaining close enough to distract or drive away a predator. We predicted that pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) mothers should: (1) maintain minimum distances from their hidden fawns sufficient to cause the expected energy gain for a ground predator, systematically searching around the mother, to fall below that expected when searching for some other prey; (2) orient the axes of either head or trunk towald the hidden fawn no more frequently than would be expected by chance; (3) schedule behavior so that no activity is more likely than another to occur when a visit to the hidden fawn is imminent. At the National Bison Range, where coyote (Canis latrans) predation on pronghorn fawns is frequent, pronghorn mothers conform to predictions (1) and (3), but not (2). Within the first 10% of their time away from fawns, mothers reached an average distance of 70.4 m from their fawns' biding places and remained at that distance until 95% of their time away was clapsed. At this mother-fawn distance a coyote, using the mother's position to begin a systematic search for the fawn, and searching at a rate of 4 m2/s, would gain energy at a lower rate than it would hunting ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus). Mothers pointed both head and trunk toward their hidden fawns more frequently than would be expected by chance and coyotes, able to use this information to establish a 90° quadrant to search, could expect rates of gain higher than those obtainable in 360° search. Mothers especially tended to orient both head and trunk toward their fawns when standing or moving. Coyotes that begin a 90° search based on the mother's head or trunk position only when mothers were standing or moving, could expect rates of energy gain almost double those expected in 360° search or ground squirrel hunting. Maternal activities (stand, feed, recline, or move) were distributed evenly across all mother-fawn distances and across percent total time away from the fawn. Thus, activity was not a good predictor of a mother's likelihood of soon returning to her fawn. Mothers also remained away from their fawns long enough to cause the expected rate of energy gain for a coyote hiding and watching for the mother's return to the fawn to fall well below the rate expected for searching or ground squirrel hunting.