A study going on in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is showing that wolves may not be as big of a threat as initially thought.
Much to the surprise of researchers, wolves are proving themselves as less of a threat to the country’s deer herd.
The study, known as The Predator Prey Project, started in 2009 by Mississippi State University and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and is taking place in three phases: low-snow, moderate-snow and deep-snow region ecological interactions in the Western U.P.
“We’ve been surprised by a few things in Phase I (low-snow study),” says Dean Beyer, a researcher with the DNR. “We learned that adult does were avoiding core wolf areas and that coyotes were avoiding them, too. That put coyotes and does in the same area, which probably resulted in a greater mortality by coyotes. And we were all surprised by the rate at which bobcats killed fawns. The rate is much higher than other species.”
Beyer points to two interesting findings from Phase I of the project. First, predation was the leading cause of deer mortality—3.5 times human causes. Second, coyotes were the leading cause of adult female mortality, ahead of wolves.
According to Beyer, the close proximity of coyotes and deer boosted mortality numbers in low snow. Wolves in the zone were often feeding at livestock carcass dumps.
Winter also impacts the mortality rate of deer, according to the report.
The low-snow portion of the study finished in 2011, and Phase II, moderate snow, is scheduled to end this year.
The study involves tracking deer fitted with radio telemetry collars and predators fitted with GPS collars.