Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Iowa
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Jacques, C.N., J.A. Jenks, T.W. Grovenburg, and R.W. Klaver. 2015. Influence of habitat and intrinsic characteristics on survival of neonatal pronghorn PLoS ONE 10: e0144026


Increased understanding of the influence of habitat (e.g., composition, patch size) and intrinsic (e.g., age, birth mass) factors on survival of neonatal pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is a prerequisite to successful management programs, particularly as they relate to population dynamics and the role of population models in adaptive species management. Nevertheless, few studies have presented empirical data quantifying the influence of habitat variables on survival of neonatal pronghorn. During 2002–2005, we captured and radiocollared 116 neonates across two sites in western South Dakota. We documented 31 deaths during our study, of which coyote (Canis latrans) predation (n = 15) was the leading cause of mortality. We used known fate analysis in Program MARK to investigate the influence of intrinsic and habitat variables on neonatal survival. We generated a priori models that we grouped into habitat and intrinsic effects. The highest-ranking model indicated that neonate mortality was best explained by site, percent grassland, and open water habitat; 90-day survival (0.80; 90% CI = 0.71–0.88) declined 23% when grassland and water increased from 80.1 to 92.3% and 0.36 to 0.40%, respectively, across 50% natal home ranges. Further, our results indicated that grassland patch size and shrub density were important predictors of neonate survival; neonate survival declined 17% when shrub density declined from 5.0 to 2.5 patches per 100 ha. Excluding the site covariates, intrinsic factors (i.e., sex, age, birth mass, year, parturition date) were not important predictors of survival of neonatal prong-horns. Further, neonatal survival may depend on available land cover and interspersion of habitats. We have demonstrated that maintaining minimum and maximum thresholds for habitat factors (e.g., percentages of grassland and open water patches, density of shrub patches) throughout natal home ranges will in turn, ensure relatively high (>0.50) neonatal survival rates, especially as they relate to coyote predation. Thus, landscape level variables (particularly percentages of open water, grassland habitats, and shrub density) should be incorporated into the development or implementation of pronghorn management plans across sagebrush steppe communities of the western Dakotas, and potentially elsewhere within the geographic range of pronghorn.