Female White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Behavior During Pregnancy, Parturition, and Lactation in 2 Contrasting Ecoregions

Chloe A. Wright, Jon T. McRoberts, Christopher T. Rota, Kevyn H. Wiskirchen, Barbara J. Keller, Joshua J. Millspaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Late gestation, parturition, and lactation are the most metabolically expensive periods for female ungulates, often requiring them to make trade-offs between acquiring sufficient forage and reducing predation risk to neonates. Females alter movements and resource use depending on the stage of parturition; however, little is known about the influence of habitat type and fragmentation on parturition behavior. We evaluated how land use and habitat fragmentation affected white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) space use, movements, and resource selection before, during, and after parturition in the highly fragmented glaciated plains (GP) and the more-contiguous forested Ozark (OZ) ecoregions of Missouri, USA. We captured 127 pregnant female deer from January–March 2015–2017 and fitted them with global positioning system radio-collars. We examined weekly home range sizes, space use shifts, movement speeds, and resource selection. Females in both study areas maintained stable movement speeds until the week of parturition when crepuscular movement speeds decreased significantly. Home range sizes were ≥150% smaller during the week of parturition compared to the third week before parturition in both study areas. Females shifted their space use 144 m (95% confidence interval [CI] = 830–252 m) in the GP and 162 m (95% CI 103–256 m) in the OZ between the week before parturition and the week of parturition. Females in both study areas exhibited similar patterns of resource selection before, during, and after parturition. Females consistently selected for Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in the GP and deciduous forests in the OZ, which could provide suitable forage for the female and adequate cover for the neonate. The similarity in movements and resource selection surrounding parturition in both areas, despite marked differences in land use and levels of fragmentation, suggests that the physiological cues of pregnancy and lactation may have the greatest influence on maternal behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-444
Number of pages15
JournalWildlife Society Bulletin
Volume45
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Bayesian discrete choice
  • Missouri
  • Odocoileus virginianus
  • dynamic Brownian bridge movement model
  • home range
  • movement behavior
  • parturition
  • resource selection
  • white-tailed deer

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