Sociospatial characteristics and genetic structure of white-tailed deer in the central Appalachians of West Virginia
Laseter, Benjamin Robert
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Despite numerous investigations of deer sociobiology and genetic attributes, the effects of social organization on the genetic structure of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations are not well understood. Furthermore, previous investigations of deer sociobiology have typically focused on low-density and/or migratory populations. Given the considerable behavioral plasticity documented in white-tailed deer in different demographic contexts, sociobiological attributes among populations will vary accordingly. I compared sociospatial characteristics and genetic structure of female white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) inhabiting a forested environment in the central Appalachian Mountains. I utilized an extensive telemetry dataset for 127 female white-tailed deer captured during the winters of 1999-2002 on the MeadWestvaco Wildlife and Ecosystem Research Forest (MWWERF) in West Virginia. I delineated spatial groups of female white-tailed deer and used genetic measures to evaluate spatial and genetic relationships. I also evaluated a genetic marker panel in the context of a group of closely related individuals, and used this genetic information to retrospectively assess the relatedness of both the deer included in an experimental removal and those remaining. My results demonstrate that female white-tailed deer do not distribute themselves randomly across the landscape of my study area, but are clumped into groups of spatially tolerant individuals. My data also suggest that while the patterns of inter-relatedness observed in our study are consistent with matriarchal social structure reported in previous studies, higher population density may affect the composition of deer groups removed in spatially-based localized management efforts. Overall, the rose-petal model of white-tailed deer population expansion applies to my study population, but high population density forces overlap among matriarchal groups and may limit the effectiveness of localized management efforts.