Date of Award
Master of Science
An understanding of the ecology and behavior of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is necessary for proper conservation and management, especially in the face of emerging infectious diseases. The objectives of my study were to estimate juvenile survival, compare methods of quantifying contact rates (simultaneous GPS locations vs. proximity loggers [PLs]), and investigate the impact of group depopulation on contact rates of remnant adult female and juvenile deer. To achieve these goals, I captured, radiotracked, and monitored adult female and juvenile white-tailed deer in southern Illinois during 2011-2014. Survival analysis of juveniles revealed that main causes of mortality were capture related and predation, though some dead animals also showed signs of hemorrhagic disease. Comparison between simultaneous GPS locations and PLs showed evidence that deer coming within the general vicinity of each other are less likely to come in close contact if they are in neighboring social groups than deer whose home ranges overlap little, if at all. Finally, experimental removal of group members caused few if any remnant adult females to alter their contact rates or space-use, but caused remnant juveniles to have lower space-use fidelity compared to control deer and to increase their direct contact rates with other groups temporarily. Using these results, I discuss the large effects that severe weather events can have on juvenile survival, the importance of social structure on the potential transmission of disease agents among female and juvenile deer, and the difference between adult females and juvenile deer in their need for social interactions. My research provides ecologists, wildlife biologists, and managers with valuable information concerning the potential impacts of the environment, infectious diseases, and management strategies on white-tailed deer populations.
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