Migration, dispersal, and survival patterns of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in a chronic wasting disease-endemic area of southern Saskatchewan
Skelton, Nicole Kimberly
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Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has infected wild deer of Saskatchewan for at least the past 10 years. Disease management plans have evolved over the years, but without information on mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) habits and movements in the grasslands of southern Saskatchewan. We radio-collared and monitored the survival and movements of 206 mule deer from 2006 to 2009. Long distance movements by deer have potential to transfer disease to previously naïve areas. Survival rates had not yet been evaluated in this area; baseline data will provide a useful measure for population-level impacts of the disease in the future. Juvenile dispersals and adult migrations were contrasted from 4 study areas along the South Saskatchewan River. Dispersal distance (median = 22.8 km, n = 14) was similar to migration distance (median = 16.0 km, n = 49). Median migration distance was similar between males (15.7 km, n = 51) and females (19.7 km, n = 65). Obligatory migrants were more likely to be female. Deer from an area of extensive grassland were more likely to be migratory than their counterparts in fragmented grassland of an agricultural landscape. Maximum migration and dispersal distances were 113 km and 195 km, respectively. Movement paths of 33 GPS-collared deer were best explained by high terrain ruggedness values and proximity to grassland. Seasonal survival rates showed that deer had lowest survival in autumn months during hunting season. Juveniles had lower survival than adults in all seasons. Harvest regime changes in 2008 improved the autumn survival of adult females but adult males had lower survival than in 2007. Body condition of captured deer was evaluated from residuals of mass-length regression. Cox regression analyses suggested that deer in good body condition (75th percentile) were half as likely to die and that those in very poor body condition (10th percentile) were twice as likely to die. Radio collars that weighed > 2% of body mass negatively affected survival and we recommend future researchers take this into consideration. Survival, dispersal, and migration rates and patterns are crucial parameters in modeling CWD in local mule deer populations. Saskatchewan wildlife managers aim to prevent CWD spread into new areas, and can use mule deer movement orientations to target surveillance accordingly. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) movements are briefly discussed; further knowledge of their movements is required for CWD management in all of Saskatchewan.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
CommitteeMcLoughlin, Philip; Epp, Tasha; Alisauskas, Ray
Copyright DateSeptember 2010
chronic wasting disease