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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.