Title:  Assessing effects of supplemental feeding on selective foraging in white-tailed deer using stable isotopes (d13C)
Author(s): Ryan L. Darr, David G. Hewitt, Timothy E. Fulbright, Charles A. DeYoung, Don A. Draeger, Kelley M. Stewart
Year: 2009
Abstract: Supplemental feeding satisfies a portion of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) dietary needs and may lead to selective foraging on higher-quality vegetation species to meet remaining nutritional requirements. Disproportional use of high-quality plants can lead to their decline in the vegetation community and other undesired ecosystem effects. We assessed the effects of supplemental feeding on selective foraging by white-tailed deer in 2 200-acre high-fenced enclosures in South Texas. We collected bite count data in spring and summer 2007 using 10 hand-raised female deer across both study sites; 5 deer had access to a pelleted supplemental feed, 5 did not. Nutritional analyses of plants consumed during bite counts were used to define the digestible protein (DP) and metabolizable energy (ME) of each deer’s seasonal diet. We used carbon stable-isotopes (d13C) to determine the proportion of supplemental feed in the diet of each deer. Results indicate that deer with access to supplemental feed consumed diets of 11% to 62% feed across both seasons. DP and ME did not vary between supplemented and unsupplemented deer in any season (P=0.11) except for DP in the spring, which was lower (P<0.01) in unsupplemented diets. Additionally, DP and ME were not related to percent feed in deer diets (P=0.13) except at 1 study site in the spring (P=0.01), where DP decreased with increasing percent feed. Our preliminary results indicate that supplemental feeding does not increase selective foraging, as measured by diet quality, in white-tailed deer.

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