Herbivore body condition response in altered environments: Mule deer and habitat management

Eric J. Bergman, Paul F. Doherty, Chad J. Bishop, Lisa L. Wolfe, Bradley A. Banulis

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19 Scopus citations


The relationships between habitat, body condition, life history characteristics, and fitness components of ungulates are interwoven and of interest to researchers as they strive to understand the impacts of a changing environment. With the increased availability of portable ultrasound machines and the refinement of hormonal assays, assessment of ungulate body condition has become an accessible monitoring strategy. We employed body condition scoring, estimation of % ingestafree body fat (%IFBF), assessment of free thyroid hormones (FT4 and FT3), and assessment of pregnancy, as metrics to determine if landscape-level habitat treatments affected body condition of adult (≥1.5 years old) female mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). All body condition related metrics were measured on 2 neighboring study areas - a reference area that had received no habitat treatments and a treatment study area that had received mechanical removal of pinyon pine (Pinyus edulis) - Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) forest, chemical control of weeds, and reseeding with preferred mule deer browse species. A consistent trend of higher %IFBF was observed in the treatment study area (%¯IFBF=7:38, SD, 1:31) than in the reference study area (%¯IFBF=6:97, SD=2:16), although variation of estimates was larger than hypothesized. A similar pattern was observed with higher thyroid hormones concentrations being observed in the treatment study area, but large amounts of variation within concentration estimates were also observed. The consistent pattern of higher body condition related estimates in our treatment study area provides evidence that large mammalian species are sensitive to landscape change, although variation within estimates underlie the challenge in detecting population level impacts stemming from environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere106374
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 3 2014


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