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Annual survival and site fidelity of free-ranging white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus): comparative demography before (1983–1992) and after (1993–2005) spatial confinement

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Abstract

Survival and movement are important demographic variables influencing the dynamics of large herbivores with implications for management and evolution of life-history strategies. Management practices such as spatial confinement and harvest regulation attempt to control survival and movement for the sustainability of harvested deer populations, but a paucity of long-term data exists on these management practices. We examined annual survival and site fidelity of free-ranging white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) over 10 years (1983–1992) to compare demographic parameters after spatial confinement (1993–2005). We used capture records (n = 174; 104 females, 70 males), marked deer recaptures (n = 42), and dead recoveries (n = 68) to estimate sex-specific, age-specific and time-specific parameters. We found that annual female survival was 50% from 1983–1987 during a period of intense harvest, but increased to 93.7% after intense harvesting was eliminated. Prior to spatial confinement, annual survival of marked male deer averaged 36.7%–42.5%. After spatial confinement, annual survival increased on average for males (58%–99%) and females (77%–98%). Females showed high levels of site fidelity (>99%) prior to spatial confinement, whereas males showed much less site fidelity (≤4.5% for the 2 top-ranking models). During spatial confinement, the semi-impermeable fence effectively increased site fidelity of males (≥56%). These results stem from long-term study (23 years) of a large herbivore experiencing changes to life-history, resulting from changes in management that were applied to the population and aimed at altering population demographics, for sustainability of a harvestable population of deer.

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