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Effect of paved road density on abundance of white-tailed deer

Effect of paved road density on abundance of white-tailed deer

Effect of paved road density on abundance of white-tailed

CSIRO PUBLISHINGWildlife Research, 2012, 39, 478–487http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR11152ong>Effectong> ong>ofong> ong>pavedong> ong>roadong> ong>densityong> on abundance ong>ofong> white-tailed deerKeith G. Munro A , Jeff Bowman B and Lenore Fahrig A,CA Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Laboratory, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive,Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada.B Wildlife Research and Development Section, Ontario Ministry ong>ofong> Natural Resources, DNA Building,2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada.C Corresponding author. Email: lenore_fahrig@carleton.caAbstractContext. Although ~3% ong>ofong> white-tailed deer are killed on ong>roadong>s each year, no previous study has tested for an effect ong>ofong>ong>roadong>s on deer abundance. This is difficult to do because ong>roadong> ong>densityong> is generally negatively correlated with deer habitatavailability.Aims. Our goal was to determine whether ong>roadong>s affect deer abundance.Methods. First, we used an existing dataset from Pennsylvania, USA, to determine a range ong>ofong> ong>pavedong> ong>roadong> densitiesrepresenting a significant range in deer per capita mortality. We then conducted a field study in eastern Ontario, Canada, withsample sites for relative deer abundance selected such that (1) ong>roadong> ong>densityong> in the surrounding landscapes varied over thissame range, and (2) there were low correlations across landscapes between ong>roadong> ong>densityong> and deer habitat availability. Thelatter allowed us to isolate the effects ong>ofong> ong>roadong>s from the effects ong>ofong> habitat on deer abundance. We indexed relative deerabundance using a combination ong>ofong> pellet samples and track counts.Key results. Unexpectedly, we observed a positive relationship between relative deer abundance and ong>pavedong> ong>roadong> ong>densityong>.Conclusions. We speculate that this positive relationship is due to (1) reduced deer predation and/or perceived predationrisk and/or hunting pressure in landscapes with higher ong>roadong> ong>densityong> and/or (2) provision ong>ofong> a resource or service by ong>roadong>s, thebenefits ong>ofong> which outweigh the ong>roadong> mortality.Implications. We found no evidence that ong>roadong> mortality places deer populations at risk ong>ofong> decline, at least over the range ong>ofong>ong>roadong> ong>densityong> values in our study. Therefore we conclude that ong>roadong> mortality is not a conservation concern for white-tailed deerin ecological contexts similar to our study areas.Additional keywords: deer–vehicle collisions, habitat fragmentation, Odocoileus virginianus, Ontario, Pennsylvania,reproductive rate, ong>roadong> mortality.Received 24 August 2011, accepted 17 May 2012, published online 26 June 2012IntroductionAlthough dozens ong>ofong> studies have documented the negative effectsong>ofong> ong>roadong>s on population abundances ong>ofong> a wide range ong>ofong> animals,different species are not equally susceptible to ong>roadong> and trafficeffects (reviewed in Fahrig and Rytwinski 2009). It is important todetermine which species or species groups are most susceptibleto negative ong>roadong> effects so that mitigation measures can betargeted to those species. For mammals, Rytwinski and Fahrig(2011) showed that, in a cross-species comparison, mammalspecies with lower reproductive rates are much more likely toshow negative population-level effects ong>ofong> ong>roadong>s than are specieswith higher reproductive rates. They suggested that populationsong>ofong> mammals with low reproductive rates are less able to reboundfrom ong>roadong> mortality.In much ong>ofong> eastern North America, the most frequently ong>roadong>killedlarge mammal is the white-tailed deer, OdocoileusJournal compilation CSIRO 2012virginianus. For example, Conover et al. (1995) estimated thatthere were over 700 000 deer–vehicle collisions in the USAduring a single year (1991), which resulted in over 600 000mortalities, because ~91.5% ong>ofong> deer–vehicle collisions are fatalfor deer (Allen and McCullough 1976). Like other largemammals, the reproductive rate ong>ofong> white-tailed deer, 1–1.5fetuses per female per year (Mundinger 1981; Kie and White1985; Garroway and Broders 2007), is low relative to thereproductive rates ong>ofong> smaller mammals. Therefore, based onRytwinski and Fahrig’s (2011) analysis we might expect to seenegative effects ong>ofong> ong>roadong> mortality on population abundances ong>ofong>white-tailed deer.On the other hand, a range ong>ofong> factors in North America havefavoured white-tailed deer over the past few decades. Theseinclude the near elimination ong>ofong> its predators (Taylor 1956;Roseberry and Woolf 1998), reductions in hunting pressure inwww.publish.csiro.au/journals/wr

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