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Data from: Interactive effects of wildfires, season, and predator activity shape mule deer movements

Cite this dataset

Ganz, Taylor R. et al. (2022). Data from: Interactive effects of wildfires, season, and predator activity shape mule deer movements [Dataset]. Dryad.


Wildfires are increasing in size, frequency, and severity due to climate change and fire suppression, but the direct and indirect effects on wildlife remain largely unresolved. Fire removes forest canopy, which can improve forage for ungulates but also reduce snow interception, leading to a deeper snowpack and potentially increased vulnerability to predation in winter. If ungulates exhibit predator-mediated foraging, burns should generally be selected for in summer to access high-quality forage and avoided in winter to reduce predation risk in deep snow. Fires also typically increase the amount of deadfall and initiate growth of dense understory vegetation, creating obstacles that may confer a hunting advantage to stalking predators and a disadvantage to coursing predators. To minimize risk, ungulates may therefore avoid burns when and where stalking predators are most active, and use burns when and where coursing predators are most active. We used telemetry data from GPS-collared mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), cougars (Puma concolor), and wolves (Canis lupus) to develop step selection functions to examine how mule deer navigated species-specific predation risk across a landscape in northern Washington, USA that has experienced substantial wildfire activity during the past several decades. We considered a diverse array of wildfire impacts, accounting for both the severity of the fire and time since the burn (1 to 35 years) in our analyses. We observed support for the predator mediating foraging hypothesis: mule deer generally selected for burned areas in summer and avoided burns in winter. In addition, deer increased use of burned areas when and where wolf activity was high and avoided burns when and where cougar use was high in winter, suggesting the hunting mode of resident predators mediated the seasonal response of deer to burns. Deer were not more likely to die by predation in burned than in unburned areas, indicating that they adequately manage fire-induced changes to predation risk. As fire activity increases with climate change, our findings indicate the impact on ungulates will depend on tradeoffs between enhanced summer forage and functionally reduced winter range, mediated by characteristics of the predator community.


Data were collected by GPS collars affixed to mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in northern Washington, USA. The first three weeks of locations post-capture, and migratory movements, were removed. Data was additionally filtered to June 15-Septemeber 30 for the summer locations and December 1 - March 15 for winter locations. Five random locations were generated to pair with each used location based on the step length of and turning angle of deer movement in each season. We extracted covariates for each random and used location. Due to the sensitive nature of the data, and as per the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Policy, the coordinates of the used and random locations have been removed.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Award: 80NSSC20K1291

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Award: 19-EARTH19-0117

National Geographic Society, Award: EC-51129R-19

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife