Social structuring of a central Appalachian deer herd and a test of localized management
Miller, Bradley Forrest
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Localized management has been proposed as a means of using white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) social behaviors in management. The process involves the ³surgical´ removal of a social group(s) of deer to create an area of low deer density for greater than or equal to5 years. However, this technique has only been tested in a highly philopatric, low-density, and un-hunted deer herd in New York. I conducted an experimental localized removal in a high-density deer population in the central Appalachians of West Virginia from 7 January to 27 February 2002. A total of 51 deer was removed within a 1.1 km area, encompassing 2 forest regeneration sites. Herbivory data were collected during the summers of 2001±2004 from forest regeneration sites. Herbivory rates declined annually in both the removal and control areas, likely due to increased timber harvesting on the larger study site, suggesting that increasing forage availability may be a viable alternative management technique for mitigating impacts of overabundant deer populations. To evaluate spatial genetic structure, I performed a spatial autocorrelation analyses based on pair-wise Moran's I values among 229 individual adult (greater than or equal to 1.5 years) females. Results revealed that genetic relatedness was related inversely to the distances between core areas determined by telemetry data or trapping location. Additionally, 28 social groups delineated by visual observation had a mean relatedness value within groups of 0.1, which is a value similar to that of first cousins. This evidence of fine-scale social group structuring indicates that the theoretical basis of localized management applies on the study site. However, the application of localized management only provided a temporary reduction in deer densities despite fulfilling a priori socio-behavioral requirements. During 1 January to 21 February 2005 I removed an additional 31 deer from the original removal area. Genetic analysis of deer collected in the second removal (i.e., repopulating animals) indicated they were different genetically from animals collected during the initial removal effort, suggesting that social behaviors of adjacent females may not prevent repopulation of removal areas by surrounding animals. The large number of repopulating animals and genetic evidence of population differentiation indicates that localized management may only produce temporary effects in Appalachian, high-density deer herds.