Abstract

Title:  Wildfire Effects on Spatial Ecology of White-tailed Deer
Author(s): Michael J. Cherry - W. Jones Ecological Research Center; Daniel Crawford - Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, UGA; Brian D. Kelly - Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, UGA; Richard B. Chandler - Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, UGA; L. Mike Conner - Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center; Elina Garrison - Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Cory Morea - Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Karl V. Miller - Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, UGA
Year: 2016
Abstract: Fire is an organizing force in ecology that influences the distributions of species, wildlife communities and ecosystems. Relatively little is known about the effects of wildfire on white-tailed deer behavior because the unpredictable nature of the disturbance is not easily integrated in to study design. The Mud Lake Fires burned across parts of the Big Cypress National Preserve in southern Florida during May of 2015, while we were monitoring the deer population with GPS collars. A portion of the monitored population were exposed to the fires (n=19) while others were not (n=52) providing an opportunity to conduct a natural experiment. We used a Before-After-Control-Impact design to examine the effects of fire on space use estimated with dynamic Brownian Bridge Movement Models. Wildfire had a substantial impact on the spatial ecology of white-tailed deer in this system. Home ranges sizes were 1.6 times larger the month following fire than the month prior to the fire for those animals exposed to the burn (t=2.44, P=0.017), while it was relatively unchanged for those animals not exposed to fire. Furthermore, five deer whose home ranges did not include burned areas previously shifted their home ranges to include recently burned areas. Similar to many herbivores, white-tailed deer appear to be attracted to recently burned patches that offer forage that is higher in nutrient quality, palatability and digestibility, and open sight lines that may be increase the detection of ambush predators that utilize cover to stalk prey.

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