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Effect of male age structure on reproduction in white-tailed deer

July 17, 2019

Selective harvest regimes that create female-biased sex ratios can potentially lead to delayed breeding, reduced breeding synchrony, reduced productivity, and a female-biased sex ratio of offspring. These resulting changes in breeding behavior and population dynamics have potential to adversely affect population growth. In 2002, Pennsylvania implemented harvest regulation changes that reduced deer density (increased harvest of antlerless deer) and increased the number and age of antlered deer (implemented antler point restriction regulations) that resulted in a less female-biased sex ratio. We monitored date of conception, productivity (embryos/female), and sex ratio of embryos during 1999–2006 to test if timing of breeding occurred earlier and with greater synchrony, if productivity of females increased, and if the sex ratio of offspring would shift towards more males. Deer density decreased 23% and the adult (≥1.5 yr old) sex ratio declined from 2.30 to 1.95 females/male. The ratio of ≥2.5-year-old to 1.5-year-old males shifted towards more older males (1:3.7 in 2002 to 1:1.59 in 2006) and the ≥2.5-year-old male population increased from 41,853 during 1999–2001 to 54,064 by 2006. We found no evidence of any change in the timing or variability of date of conception, productivity, or offspring sex ratio. We conclude that harvest regulation changes implemented in Pennsylvania, USA, were insufficient to affect timing of breeding or population dynamics and that efforts by managers to identify a desired sex ratio or manipulate sex ratios to achieve management goals on a statewide scale will be challenging. 

Publication Year 2019
Title Effect of male age structure on reproduction in white-tailed deer
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21712
Authors Duane R. Diefenbach, Gary Alt, Bret D. Wallingford, Christopher S. Rosenberry, Eric S. Long
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70228057
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Leetown