Genetic diversity and population structure in urban white-tailed deer


  • Associate Editor: Emily Latch


Habitat fragmentation in urban areas has left many species isolated and vulnerable to loss of genetic variation. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), however, thrive in urban areas. We compared genetic diversity and structure among deer in 2 urban metroparks with deer in a fenced reserve and with deer from an open, continuously distributed population to inform urban deer management. If urban deer maintain species' typical matrilineal genetic structure, removal of female groups may effectively reduce local abundance. However, if gene flow in urban areas is high, dispersal may impede efforts to reduce abundance. Although genetic diversity was high and mean relatedness was near zero in all locations, distributions of pairwise relatedness in urban metroparks and the fenced reserve contained greater proportions of closely and distantly related deer than the open locations, likely attributable to matrilineal structure. In addition, deer from the metroparks (approx. 65 km apart) were moderately differentiated (Fst = 0.092) indicating gene flow in urban areas may be less than in other landscapes. Our results indicate that removal of matrilineal groups may reduce local urban deer abundance without inducing immigration from surrounding areas. © The Wildlife Society, 2012