DNA Tells The Fawn Predation Story

Jack M. from Ohio writes to ask about fawn predation. “I keep reading these stories about predators eating fawns. It seems to me that a big predator such as a mountain lion or even coyotes would kill and eat the entire fawn within a very short period of time. You could walk by the next day and never know that a fawn was eaten in that area, so how do researchers know that the fawn was even there in the first place?”

Dr. Dave Samuel
Dr. Dave Samuel

That is a very good question. It turns out that in many prior fawn predation studies, the “unknown” category was often the largest category. That’s because researchers found so few remains of the fawn that they could not determine what killed it. However, the latest coyote/deer fawn predation studies are capturing does and putting vaginal implants in them. When the doe gives birth to the fawn, the implant comes out and the researchers then go right in and catch and radio collar the fawn.

When coyotes, or other predators, kill the fawn, the researchers are able to quickly determine that. Another way researchers are reducing the “unknown” category is by taking DNA samples from saliva left on fawn carcasses and this tells them exactly what has eaten the fawn. Of course, the fawn may have died from other causes and been scavenged, but even so this DNA approach greatly lowers the “unknown” category when it comes to fawn mortality.

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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for more than 31 years.

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