Master of Science
Environment and Sustainability
Long, Jed A
Hunting has been used as a central tool by wildlife managers to maintain populations of game species, however, we still lack a good understanding of exactly how hunting influences deer biology. Technological advances in GPS data over the last two decades now enable us to perform more detailed analysis on the effects of human hunters on wildlife populations. This research explores the spatial ecology of hunters and White-tailed deer in the Cross Timbers ecoregion of Oklahoma. Using new statistical methodologies to analyse simultaneous GPS tracking data on deer and hunters to study their spatial interactions. The results show how new methods allow us to quantify the spatial ecology and behaviour of White-tailed deer in response to predation pressure from human hunters in combination with the biotic and abiotic drivers of predation risk and flight response. Giving wildlife managers greater understanding to influence deer populations, and landscapes, in the future.
Summary for Lay Audience
White-tailed deer are an important species economically, culturally, and biologically across the Americas. They are the most widely distributed deer species ranging from South America all the way up to the Yukon Territory and spanning the continent from the eastern seaboard to British Columbia. This species exerts pressure on plant communities, including forestry plantations and has bottom-up effects on predator populations that depend on them for food. Although White-tailed deer declined steeply following the arrival of Europeans, they have now rebounded to historically high levels due to the success of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM). While this is a conservation success, high numbers of deer can lead to human-wildlife conflict where they are over abundant and cause damage such as loss to forestry or wildlife-vehicle collisions.
Hunting has been used as a central part of the NAM to manage game species since its creation in the early 1900s. Population management relies on a tag-based system and hunters harvest deer from the population in numbers that are sustainable. Yet, deer numbers remain above carrying capacity (the number of individuals the landscape can sustain) across many ecoregions. This presents complex challenges for wildlife managers who need to balance the costs and benefits of deer for multiple stakeholder groups. Although this species is well studied from a hunter perspective, regarding hunter success and trophy size, less is known about the impacts of hunters on deer behaviour and space use on the landscape. It is known that fear and stress can have direct impacts on deer population numbers, as can the forage availability the deer are able to access. Therefore, it would benefit managers to understand how hunting impacts deer behaviour and the subsequent ways this information can be harnessed to better reach our management goals.
This research seeks to test new methodologies to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between hunters and deer and how this influences deer behaviour and landscape use. Harnessing this information will allow managers to better understand the impacts of hunting on deer populations and achieve their management goals.
Kirton, Rhiannon D., "Using spatial methods to analyse anthropogenic predation risk and movement ecology of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8328.
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