Condition of mule deer during winter: stress and spatial overlap with North American elk

M. Paul Atwood, John G. Kie, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Marjorie D. Matocq, R. Terry Bowyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We assessed body condition, diet quality (indexed by fecal nitrogen), and stress levels (using fecal glucocorticoid metabolites) in mule deer Odocoileus hemionus in southeastern Idaho, USA, during a mild (2007) and a harsh winter (2008) to evaluate spatial overlap and potential competition with North American elk Cervus elaphus. We used data from GPS telemetry to construct spatially explicit maps of local population density of elk for January–April. Loss of body condition over winter in yearling and adult female mule deer was not related to elk density but to winter severity. Fecal nitrogen increased as winter progressed in both winters, was significantly lower during 2008 than in 2007, but was not related to local population density of elk. In the mild winter of 2007, a significant positive relationship existed between local population density of elk and fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels of mule deer, indicating increased physiological stress among mule deer wintering in close proximity to elk. Fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels in deer were lower in 2008 than in 2007 and exhibited no significant relationship with elk density. Declining fecal glucocorticoid levels through winter may be typical of northern cervids. No difference existed in levels of fecal glucocorticoids between sexes of deer. A reduction in elk populations may not improve diet quality, physiological stress levels, or body condition of mule deer on winter range, especially during severe winters. Consequently, management and conservation of winter habitat are more likely to benefit mule deer than would altering density of elk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-358
Number of pages10
JournalMammal Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Cervus elaphus
  • Competition
  • Condition indices
  • Fecal nitrogen
  • Odocoileus hemionus
  • Stress hormones


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