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Keywords:

  • antlers;
  • culling;
  • genetics;
  • GENUP;
  • management;
  • modeling;
  • Odocoileus virginianus;
  • selection;
  • selective harvest;
  • white-tailed deer

Abstract

Selective harvesting in wild deer (Odocoileus spp.) populations is a common practice that may influence antler size. However, in free-ranging populations, response due to selection is unknown or difficult to quantify because antlers are influenced by nutrition and population demographics. We used quantitative genetic models to predict how white-tailed deer (O. virginianus) antlers would respond to selection and what variables (i.e., population size, age structure, mating ratio, and heritability) most affected antler size. We validated our quantitative genetics program by comparing model results with a population of deer used for controlled breeding experiments; modeled antler points (AP) and score increased (2.2–4.3 AP and 48.5–97.7 cm, respectively) after 8 years of selection, similar to observed increases in AP (3.2) and score (92.3 cm) from the controlled population. In modeled free-ranging populations, mating ratio, age structure, and heritability were more important in influencing antler size than size of the population. However, response to selection in free-ranging populations was lower (0.1–0.9 AP) than controlled breeding populations even after 20 years of selection. These results show that selective harvesting of free-ranging white-tailed deer may be inefficient to change population-level genetic characteristics related to antler size. Response of antlers in free-ranging deer will be less than controlled populations, and possibly modeled free-ranging simulations, because individual reproductive success of males is lower, breeding is done by a large group of males, and reproductive and survival rates are lower. These factors, and others, reduce the amount of improvement that can be made to antlers due to selection. Therefore, selective harvesting in free-ranging populations should be justified for managing population demographics and dynamics, but not for changing the genetic characteristics of populations. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.