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Capture—recapture of white-tailed deer using DNA from fecal pellet groups
- Goode, Matthew J., Beaver, Jared T., Muller, Lisa I., Clark, Joseph D., Manen, Frank T. van, Harper, Craig A., Basinger, P. Seth
- Wildlife biology 2014 v.20 no.5 pp. 270-278
- DNA, Odocoileus virginianus, deer, feces, females, forests, harvesting, landscapes, males, pellets, population size, sex determination analysis, sex ratio, trapping, Tennessee
- Traditional methods for estimating white-tailed deer population size and density are affected by behavioral biases, poor detection in densely forested areas, and invalid techniques for estimating effective trapping area. We evaluated a noninvasive method of capture—recapture for white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus density estimation using DNA extracted from fecal pellets as an individual marker and for gender determination, coupled with a spatial detection function to estimate density (spatially explicit capture—recapture, SECR). We collected pellet groups from 11 to 22 January 2010 at randomly selected sites within a 1-km² area located on Arnold Air Force Base in Coffee and Franklin counties, Tennessee. We searched 703 10-m radius plots and collected 352 pellet-group samples from 197 plots over five two-day sampling intervals. Using only the freshest pellets we recorded 140 captures of 33 different animals (15M:18F). Male and female densities were 1.9 (SE = 0.8) and 3.8 (SE = 1.3) deer km⁻², or a total density of 5.8 deer km⁻² (14.9 deer mile⁻²). Population size was 20.8 (SE = 7.6) over a 360-ha area, and sex ratio was 1.0 M: 2.0 F (SE = 0.71). We found DNA sampling from pellet groups improved deer abundance, density and sex ratio estimates in contiguous landscapes which could be used to track responses to harvest or other management actions.