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Effects of selective harvest on antler size in white-tailed deer: A modeling approach

Authors

  • Stephen L. Webb,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Hayden-Wing Associates, 2308 S. 8th St., Laramie, WY 82070, USA.
    • Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA.
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  • Stephen Demarais,

    1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA
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  • Bronson K. Strickland,

    1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA
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  • Randy W. DeYoung,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, 700 University Blvd., MSC 218, Kingsville, TX 78363, USA
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  • Brian P. Kinghorn,

    1. School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia
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  • Kenneth L. Gee

    1. Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, 2510 Sam Noble Pkwy., Ardmore, OK 73401, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Christopher Jaques.

  • This article was originally published online 21 Sep 2011. An error was subsequently identified: the Dams/sire value in the last row of Table 2 was updated from 1 to 3. This notice is to recognize the update posted 28 Sep 2011.

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.

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