Postpartum behavior of maternal deer may be specific to species of deer and predators. We captured sympatric white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and mule deer (O. hemionus eremicus) fawns from radiocollared adult females in 2004–2006 on rangelands of west central Texas, USA, where predators larger than bobcats (Lynx rufus) were absent. Our objective was to determine whether differences in postpartum antipredator behavior existed between deer species, and if so, examine efficacy of those strategies. We collected postpartum group cohesion data in 2004 and 2005 by using radiotelemetry and examined dead fawns for cause of mortality. During fawns' hider phase, <3 weeks postpartum, mule deer females kept fawns closer to themselves (95% CI = 39–66 m) and twins closer to each other (95% CI = 25–49 m) than did white-tailed deer females (95% CIs = 152–234 m and 163–255 m, respectively). After 30 days postpartum, familial group cohesion was similarly tight for both species. During hider phases from 2004 to 2006, predated carcasses of white-tailed deer fawns (11 of 11) were dismembered or consumed more than mule deer fawns (7 of 13, P = 0.016), which was one line of evidence for maternal defense by mule deer adults. During hider phases in 2004 and 2005, predation rate of mule deer fawns was lower than that for white-tailed deer fawns. In 2006, predation rate increased for mule deer but was similar for white-tailed deer fawns compared with previous years. The tight cohesion strategy of mule deer exhibited in 2004 and 2005 seemed successful at thwarting small predators. Without large predators, the loose cohesion strategy of white-tailed deer females was maladaptive. When meso-predators are abundant due to extermination of larger predators, predation on fawns could increase if a deer species has relatively fixed postpartum maternal antipredator behavior.
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Vol. 74 • No. 8