White-tailed deer density and habitat relationships

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Studies on density related indices of white-tailed deer were conducted on the Conservation Research Center (CRC) in Warren County, Virginia from June 1985 to April 1986. Food habits and bark-stripping by deer were also evaluated.

Whole body weights, stored fat status, abomasal parasite counts, and blood indices from five deer collected in September on the CRC were compared to deer collected from two reference areas in Southwest Virginia. Abomasal parasite count values for the three areas were recorded as 2568, 1292, and 292. No consistent effects of deer density on physical and physiological indices were observed.

Rumen contents from the five deer collected on the CRC were used to determine food habits. The fall diet consisted of green herbage and foliage of woody plants (70% of the total volume) and fruits (30%) such as acorns, apples, and black cherry. No consistent effect of deer density on forage use in meadows was observed on the CRC. Meadow utilization decreased as the growing season progressed. Meadows were utilized more at the edge than 200 m from the edge (P = 0.06). No significant difference (P > 0.05) was found in percentage of dogwood twigs browsed during winter among areas with different deer densities.

Fecal crude protein values were higher during summer than winter (P < 0. 0001) but there also was an area-season interaction ( P < 0. 01). Acid detergent fiber values were significantly different areawise (P < 0.01), seasonwise, and areas-season interactionwise (P = 0.0001). Deer density was positively related to winter ADF values.

Bark-stripping occurred on slippery elm trees during the winter in a high deer density area. No significant association was found between stripping of slippery elms and age, dbh, and height classes. Protein (P < 0.001) and starch (P < 0.01) contents of the bark were significantly higher in slippery elms than in any other tree species.