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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


white-tailed deer, range movement, winter, south dakota, boundaries


Knowledge of movement patterns, both migratory and daily, cause-specific mortality, spatial and temporal survival rates, and resource use patterns are crucial in understanding white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) population dynamics. In the agricultural Midwest, survival and cause-specific mortality have been well documented; however, little information exists regarding these data as well as resource selection of deer for east central South Dakota. The purpose of this study was to provide empirical data regarding white-tailed deer population dynamics in east central South Dakota. Primary objectives of the study were to document seasonal movement patterns and survival rates for adult, female white-tailed deer in this region. Secondary objectives were to calculate seasonal home ranges, seasonal movement strategies relative to management unit boundaries and physiographic regions, cause-specific mortality, and evaluate winter resource selection. From January 2005 to January 2007, 42 adult, female white-tailed deer were monitored for movement and mortality using radio telemetry in Brown, Edmunds, Faulk, and McPherson counties, South Dakota. A total of 2,822 locations was collected, with a mean 95% error ellipse of 6.6 ha. I documented a total of 49 seasonal movements during 4 migration periods; spring 2005 (n = 5), fall 2005 (n = 8), spring 2006 (n = 20), and fall 2006 (n = 16). Temperature was the primary cause of seasonal migration. Mean migration distance between seasonal home ranges was 19.4 km (SE = 2.0). Percentage of migrants crossing management unit boundaries ranged from 12.5 to 60.0%. Percentage of migrants crossing physiographic region boundaries ranged from 60.0 to 81.3%. Mean spring migration direction was 294.3° (SE = 12.2°, n = 25). Mean dispersal distance was 59.9 km (SE = 11.9, range 36.2, n = 3). A total of 83 individual home ranges was calculated during 3 periods of seasonal home range use; summer 2005 (n = 21), winter 2005-06 (n = 32), and summer 2006 (n = 30). Mean 95% home range size was 6.5 km² (SE = 0.9, n = 32) during winter and 7.1 km² (SE = 0.9, n = 51) during summer. Mean 95% home range during winter and summer ranged from 3.9-9.1 km² and 3.6-15.6 km², respectively. Mean movement between relocations was 977.9 m (SE = 36.2, n = 83). During this study, 18 deer died, and the overall (25 month) survival rate was 0.48 (SE = 0.08, n = 42). Annual survival rates during 2005 and 2006 were 0.84 (SE = 0.08, n = 22) and 0.65 (SE = 0.08, n = 40), respectively. Seasonal survival rates for post-hunt, pre-hunt, and hunting seasons during 2005 and 2006 were 1.00 (SE < 0.001, n = 22), 1.00 (SE < 0.001, n = 22), 0.80 (SE = 0.08, n = 42) and 0.97 (SE = 0.03, n = 37), 0.97 (SE = 0.03, n = 36), 0.64 (SE = 0.09, n = 32), respectively. Survival was predominantly dependant on human-related factors (i.e., hunting, vehicle collisions, wounding loss), which caused 88.9% of all mortalities. Hunting (including wounding loss) accounted for 77.8% of all mortalities. The best fit model for winter survival included the covariates tree stands (β = -114.68, SE = 94.77), wetlands (β = -21.33, SE = 14.61), and standing corn (β = -8.89, SE = 4.02), indicating that white-tailed deer with higher percentages of tree stands, wetlands, and standing corn in their seasonal home range had lower survival. The best fit model for summer survival included grassland (β = 15.85, SE = 9.4), indicating that white-tailed deer with higher percentages of grasslands in their seasonal home range had higher survival. Twenty habitat categories were mapped encompassing the winter home ranges of 30 animals with 868 locations gathered via radio telemetry. When analyzing the population as a whole (design I) my findings indicated that white-tailed deer were selecting fields of standing corn (ŵ = 4.067), over all other habitat categories. Animals also were selecting for trees/shrubs (ŵ = 2.820) and tall grass/wetlands (ŵ = 1.838), while selecting against harvested crops (ŵ= 0.555) and roads/development ( = 0.367). Analysis using design II of pairs of selection ratios demonstrated that no single habitat was selected with a higher probability (P < 0.05) when compared to all of the other habitats. Design III analysis of comparisons of pairs of selection ratios indicated significant differences in selection between selected habitat pairs. Data for design III were sampled on the selection of resource units by individual animals, and extensive variation existed between animals in available proportions of habitat categories for individual animals as well as for use by individual deer. Functional response results using logistic regression for the fitted model (G = 31.16, P = 0.119, G/df = 1.35, β = 0.69,  = 1.20) indicated that there was a significant increase in use of cover habitat by deer as the availability of cover habitat increased. While the initial model using all 30 animals was not a good fit, results for the intercept and parameter were similar as to direction of selection across all 6 models. Thus, a reliable inference can be concluded about cover habitat selection for white-tailed deer in this study. Functional response results (G = 32.04, df = 22, P = 0.077, G/df = 1.46, β = 1.15,  = 1.58) for standing corn indicated an increase in use of standing corn habitat as the availability of standing corn increased. The distribution of animals was strongly influenced by composition and spatial pattern of resources within individual home ranges and results illustrated the importance of habitat interspersion to white-tailed. This study provided crucial data regarding survival, movements, and resource use of white-tailed deer in east central South Dakota. Results will be used to improve population models and assist South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks with management decisions. Loss of standing corn habitat could negatively affect deer populations in this region of South Dakota; high survival indicates that harvest is necessary to maintain deer populations within management unit goals. However, continuous monitoring of these variables as well as any other critical variables should allow for further understanding and successful management of white-tailed deer populations in this region.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

White-tailed deer -- Seasonal distribution -- South Dakota
White-tailed deer -- Mortality -- South Dakota
White-tailed deer -- Wintering -- South Dakota



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2007 Troy W. Grovenburg. All rights reserved.