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Urban predator–prey association: coyote and deer distributions in the Chicago metropolitan area

Abstract

We examined how predator or prey presence, as well as local and landscape factors, influence the distribution of coyotes (Canis latrans) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the Chicago metropolitan area. We collected data for 2 years at 93 study sites along 3 transects of urbanization using motion-triggered cameras. Our primary objective was to determine the relationship among coyote and deer spatial and temporal distribution, habitat characteristics, and human activity using multi-season patch occupancy models. Coyote occupancy was most strongly linked to rates of site visitation by humans and dogs, and was more likely farther from the urban center, with coyote colonization of sites inversely related to road density, housing density, and human and dog site visitation. Deer more frequently occupied sites with high canopy cover near water sources and colonized smaller sites with reduced housing density and human and dog presence. Expected predator–prey dynamics were altered in this highly urban system. Though we predicted deer would avoid coyotes on the landscape based on an “ecology of fear” framework, deer and coyote occupancy showed a strong positive association. We suggest that a scarcity of quality habitat in urban areas may cause the species to co-occupy habitat despite potential fawn predation. Modifying human foot traffic in green spaces may represent a useful tool for management and conservation of large urban mammals.

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Acknowledgments

We thank M. Fidino, H. Grant, M. Kestufskie, J. Kilgour, M. Vernon, and others for assistance with fieldwork. An anonymous reviewer provided comments that greatly improved the manuscript. We are grateful to the many landowners who allowed us access to their property, including the forest preserve districts of Cook, DuPage, Lake, and Will counties, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Nature Preserve Commission, the Chicago Park District, and the Archdiocese of Chicago. Funding was provided by the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Davee Foundation.

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Correspondence to Seth B. Magle.

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Magle, S.B., Simoni, L.S., Lehrer, E.W. et al. Urban predator–prey association: coyote and deer distributions in the Chicago metropolitan area. Urban Ecosyst 17, 875–891 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-014-0389-5

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Keywords

  • Coyote
  • Deer
  • Urban wildlife
  • Chicago
  • Landscape ecology
  • Community ecology