Despite the key roles that dispersal plays in individual animal fitness and meta-population gene flow, it remains one of the least understood behaviors in many species. In large mammalian herbivores, dispersals might span long distances and thereby influence landscape-level ecological processes, such as infectious disease spread. Here, we describe and analyze an exceptional long-distance dispersal by an adult white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the central United States. We also conducted a literature survey to compare the dispersal to previous studies. This dispersal was remarkable for its length, duration, and the life history stage of the dispersing individual. Dispersal is typical of juvenile deer seeking to establish postnatal home ranges, but this dispersal was undertaken by an adult male (age = 3.5). This individual dispersed ~300 km over a 22-day period by moving, on average, 13.6 km/day and achieving a straight-line distance of ~215 km, which was ~174 km longer than any other distance recorded for an adult male deer in our literature survey. During the dispersal, which occurred during the hunting season, the individual crossed a major river seven times, an interstate highway, a railroad, and eight state highways. Movements during the dispersal were faster (mean = 568.1 m/h) and more directional than those during stationary home range periods before and after the dispersal (mean = 56.9 m/h). Likewise, movements during the dispersal were faster (mean = 847.8 m/h) and more directional at night than during the day (mean = 166.4 m/h), when the individual frequently sheltered in forest cover. This natural history event highlights the unpredictable nature of dispersal and has important implications for landscape-level processes such as chronic wasting disease transmission in cervids. More broadly, our study underscores how integrating natural history observations with modern technology holds promise for understanding potentially high impact but rarely recorded ecological events.
- chronic wasting disease
- movement ecology