Camera traps reveal an apparent mutualism between a common mesocarnivore and an endangered ungulate
Camera traps are commonly used to study mammal ecology and they occasionally capture previously undocumented species interactions. The key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) is an endangered endemic subspecies of the Florida Keys, where it exists with few predators. We obtained a camera trap sequence of 80 photos in which a key deer interacted with two northern raccoons (Procyon lotor). One of the raccoons groomed the deer’s face for ~1 min. This interaction is peculiar and appears mutualistic because the deer was not concerned and willingly remained still throughout the physical contact. Although mutualistic relationships between deer and birds are common, we are unaware of any previously documented mesocarnivore-deer mutualisms. Key deer have evolved in the absence of mammalian predators and we hypothesize that they exhibit reduced vigilance or concern when encountering other species because of predator naivety. Key deer and raccoons are commonly associated with humans and urbanization and an alternative hypothesis is that the interactions are a consequence of heightened deer density, causing a greater probability of sustained interactions with the common mesocarnivores.
KeywordsCamera trap Deer Mutualism Raccoon Species interactions Vigilance
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