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The Influence of Local Forage Variability on White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Body Size at Fort Hood, Texas

Description: Nutritional quality and availability is thought to regulate geographic patterns of variability in animal body size due to phenotypic plasticity. The purpose of this study is to determine how vegetation quality, abundance and population density influence white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) body size on a subregional spatial scale at Fort Hood, Texas. Harvest and census records are used to test the hypothesis that white-tailed deer exhibit phenotypic plasticity (e.g. larger body size) in response to differences in vegetation quality and availability. Results from these analyses suggest that forage quality and abundance alone is not a main driver of white-tailed deer body size. Analysis of deer population density (generally) resulted in an inverse relationship with body size. Areas with high quality forage and low population density support larger deer while areas with low quality forage and high density support smaller than average deer. The few exceptions occur in areas exhibiting poor quality forage and low population density or high forage quality and high density. Results from this study suggest that continued overcrowding of deer within isolated areas may eventually lead to efficiency phenotypic conditions producing smaller sized deer. These results could prove useful in interpreting deer population responses to harvest management. For successful local management of deer, studies examining the combined influence of habitat variables (such as forage quality, abundance and population density) on deer health offer managers valuable information needed to establish annual harvest goals and understand deer-habitat relationships relative to carrying capacity.
Date: December 2015
Creator: Eddins, Amy C.