A pair of wolves run across the landscape in eastern Washington in 2016.
University of Washington
A pair of wolves run across the landscape in eastern Washington in 2016.

Washington’s deer populations have begun to change their behavior to evade ever-increasing numbers of their most cunning predator, the gray wolf. Intriguingly, the escape tactics used by the two more common species – the mule deer and the white-tailed deer – vary greatly.

Researchers from UW College of the Environment and other institutions found that when in areas populated by gray wolves, mule deer are spending more time away from roads, at higher elevations and in rockier landscapes than previously observed. Alternately, white-tailed deer appear to sprint across open, gently rolling terrain with good visibility — including along roads.

Tracking and interpreting these behaviors has become more feasible since the recent return of gray wolves to Washington State over the last decade, populations of which were wiped out from the area last century. The research team used wildlife cameras and tracking collars on wolves and deer, and monitored the data from all of the collars over three years, from 2013 to 2016.

“In any particular ecosystem, if you have a predator returning, prey are unlikely to all respond similarly,” said senior author Aaron Wirsing, an associate professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “We show that wolves don’t have a uniform effect on different deer species.”

Their results were published in December in the journal Oecologia.

Read more at UW News »