by C. J. Winand • June 6, 2013
Are predators such as coyotes negatively affecting our deer herds? In an article in the February 1999 issue of a well-known hunting magazine, a wildlife biologist wrote, “The answer is generally no, but it all depends. The positive and negative impacts of coyotes on our deer herds in the East are poorly understood. More research is needed. The origin of the coyote’s establishment in the East is still a matter of speculation.”
Does this quote tell us anything? I don’t think so. This guy should have been a politician. Why would I say that about someone? Because that quote was from me!
Deer in the West learned to live with coyotes for eons. Granted, there are always peaks and valleys in predator-prey relationships, but deer that possessed the instincts to avoid predators passed their survival traits onto their young. This is important because it increased fawn survival when populations were at a low point. In other words, the does that are better “hiders” of their fawns are the key to re-establishing a population.
But, what happens to the deer in the East that have never lived with coyotes? Dr. Michael Chamberlain, a wildlife professor at the University of Georgia, says, “It’s important to understand that deer in most areas east of the Mississippi River have had to deal with coyotes only recently. Their expansion has been extremely rapid relative to range expansion in other mammals, particularly larger mammals.
As gray and red wolves disappeared from the Northeast and Southeast, coyotes began their eastward expansion, which drastically accelerated during the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s, coyotes had reached the East Coast and now are ubiquitous throughout the Eastern U.S.”
Theories suggest that the present-day Eastern coyote is most likely a cross with gray wolves that dispersed across Canada into the Eastern U.S. and/or the red wolf that was found in the Southeast.
Hybridization between coyotes and wolves may also explain why coyotes are in every state east of the Mississippi River. This makes sense when you consider the extensive predator removal that occurred during the previous two centuries. With declining predator populations, breeding with each other may have been the only option. Nowadays, many of these hybrids have backcrossed with coyotes.
Recent genetic studies lean toward crossbreeding with wolves as the most likely reason coyotes are larger in the East than in the West. We also know coyotes in the East are completely different than their Western cousins. We also know coyotes will breed with dogs. Interestingly, research has proven that crosses between coyotes and dogs, or “coydogs,” only survive a generation or two. Whatever the current day makeup of coyotes in the East, one thing is certain: Almost nothing we thought we knew about coyotes in the West pertains to those in the East.
Read more at Bowhunter.com