Title:  Density Dependence in Deer Populations: Relevance for Management in Poor Quality and Variable Habitats
Author(s): Charles A. DeYoung, D. Lynn Drawe, Timothy E. Fulbright, David G. Hewitt, Stuart W. Stedman, David R. Synatzske, James G. Teer
Year: 2007
Abstract: New World deer of genus Odocoileus are commonly assumed to respond to food shortage due to intraspecific competition by reduced recruitment, body mass, and other manifestations. This has been termed density dependence and deer harvest management is theoretically based on this concept. However, some researchers have questioned whether density dependence is operative in poor quality or variable habitats. We analyzed for density dependence in 3 times series of deer counts (21, 29, and 33 years) from south Texas, which has highly variable rainfall. On the westernmost (driest) study area, no density dependence was detected (P > 0.05). Modest indications of density dependence were detected in the center of the region (P = 0.03), whereas to the east near the Gulf of Mexico (wettest area), strong density dependence (P = 0.0001) was suggested. We propose that most populations undergo periods of density dependence and density independence, with the likelihood of density dependent periods less in poor quality and variable environments. We include in variable environments those with variable precipitation and/or periodic severe winters. Using literature and hypothetical values, we produced a map of the lower 48 states of the USA showing areas where density dependent behavior in deer populations may not be common. Such areas covered 59% of deer range in the lower 48 states. For deer populations, we believe that density dependence and harvest theory derived therefrom are useful theoretical concepts. However, we urge deer managers to use caution in applying these concepts to practical population management.

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