Abstract

Title:  Examination of Social Stress in a Population of White-tailed Deer
Author(s): J. Clint McCoy and Stephen S. Ditchkoff
Year: 2008
Abstract: Wildlife managers typically simplify management plans so that they are easily understood and implemented by interest groups. White-tailed deer management is a prime example, where we simplify population management to include prescriptions designed to control or manipulate density, sex ratio, and buck age structure. With this approach, we have been extremely successful at achieving our management objectives, which normally focus on increased antler development and numbers of large-antlered deer. In some cases, management plans on individual parcels of property intensify their respective programs to increase the number of large-antlered deer that are produced, and exceed carrying capacity of the area. A potential flaw of this approach to management is that it assumes if the deer are adequately fed then they will be healthy, thus, maximizing growth and antler development. However, this common assumption fails to consider many less obvious factors that influence health of deer, one of which is stress. Deer exposed to abnormally high densities and/or increased levels of agonistic interactions can experience chronic stress, which has been shown to negatively influence body growth, antler development, and reproduction. In response to stress, deer secrete glucocorticoids which are eventually metabolized and excreted in feces. We collected feces from a population of deer maintained at high density (>100 deer/mile2), with an estimated sex ratio of 2 bucks:1 doe, and a large proportion of mature males to measure glucocorticoid concentrations and develop a stress profile of the population. We will discuss our findings and outline the potential consequences of these population characteristics.

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