Comparing Protein and Energy Status of Winter-Fed White-Tailed Deer

Authors

  • BLAIR D. PAGE,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA
      bdpage@syr.edu
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    • Blair D. Page (left) earned a B.S. in biology from St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, in 1997 and an M.S. in wildlife ecology from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-CESF), Syracuse, New York, in 2001. He currently is a Ph.D. candidate at SUNY-CESF studying forest ecology and biogeochemistry.

  • H. BRIAN UNDERWOOD

    1. United States Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Faculty of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA
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    • H. Brian Underwood (right) is Adjunct Faculty and Research Wildlife Biologist with the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center field station at SUNY-CESF in Syracuse. He received a B.S. in Natural Resources Management at West Virginia University, Morgantown and an M.S. and Ph.D. from SUNY-CESF. He conducts research in applied wildlife population demography, modeling and simulation of biological systems, risk assessment, and decision analyses in natural resources management contexts.


bdpage@syr.edu

Abstract

Although nutritional status in response to controlled feeding trials has been extensively studied in captive white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), there remains a considerable gap in understanding the influence of variable supplemental feeding protocols on free-ranging deer. Consequently, across the northern portion of the white-tailed deer range, numerous property managers are investing substantial resources into winter supplemental-feeding programs without adequate tools to assess the nutritional status of their populations. We studied the influence of a supplemental winter feeding gradient on the protein and energy status of free-ranging white-tailed deer in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. We collected blood and fecal samples from 31 captured fawns across 3 sites that varied considerably in the frequency, quantity, and method of supplemental feed distribution. To facilitate population-wide comparisons, we collected fresh fecal samples off the snow at each of the 3 sites with supplemental feeding and 1 reference site where no feeding occurred. Results indicated that the method of feed distribution, in addition to quantity and frequency, can affect the nutritional status of deer. The least intensively fed population showed considerable overlap in diet quality with the unfed population in a principal components ordination, despite the substantial time and financial resources invested in the feeding program. Data from fecal samples generally denoted a gradient in diet quality and digestibility that corresponded with the availability of supplements. Our results further demonstrated that fecal nitrogen and fecal fiber, indices of dietary protein and digestibility, can be estimated using regressions of fecal pellet mass, enabling a rapid qualitative assessment of diet quality.

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