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Survival of white-tailed deer neonates in Minnesota and South Dakota


  • Associate Editor: David M. Forsyth


Understanding the influence of intrinsic (e.g., age, birth mass, and sex) and habitat factors on survival of neonate white-tailed deer improves understanding of population ecology. During 2002–2004, we captured and radiocollared 78 neonates in eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, of which 16 died before 1 September. Predation accounted for 80% of mortality; the remaining 20% was attributed to starvation. Canids (coyotes [Canis latrans], domestic dogs) accounted for 100% of predation on neonates. We used known fate analysis in Program MARK to estimate survival rates and investigate the influence of intrinsic and habitat variables on survival. We developed 2 a priori model sets, including intrinsic variables (model set 1) and habitat variables (model set 2; forested cover, wetlands, grasslands, and croplands). For model set 1, model {Sage-interval} had the lowest AICc (Akaike's information criterion for small sample size) value, indicating that age at mortality (3-stage age-interval: 0–2 weeks, 2–8 weeks, and >8 weeks) best explained survival. Model set 2 indicated that habitat variables did not further influence survival in the study area; β-estimates and 95% confidence intervals for habitat variables in competing models encompassed zero; thus, we excluded these models from consideration. Overall survival rate using model {Sage-interval} was 0.87 (95% CI = 0.83–0.91); 61% of mortalities occurred at 0–2 weeks of age, 26% at 2–8 weeks of age, and 13% at >8 weeks of age. Our results indicate that variables influencing survival may be area specific. Region-specific data are needed to determine influences of intrinsic and habitat variables on neonate survival before wildlife managers can determine which habitat management activities influence neonate populations. © 2011 The Wildlife Society