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Evaluating risks associated with capture and handling of mule deer for individual-based, long-term research

January 1, 2024

Capture and handling techniques for individual-based, long-term research that tracks the life history of animals by recapturing the same individuals for several years has vastly improved study inferences and our understanding of animal ecology. Yet there are corresponding risks to study animals associated with physical trauma or capture myopathy that can occur during or following capture events. Rarely has empirical evidence existed to guide decisions associated with understanding the magnitude of capture-related risks, how to reduce these risks when possible, and implications for mortality censoring and survival estimates. We used data collected from 2,399 capture events of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) via helicopter net-gunning to compare daily survival probabilities within a 10-week period centered on a capture event and evaluated how animal age, nutritional condition (body fat), and various handling methods influenced survival before, during, and following a capture event. Direct mortality resulting from capture efforts was 1.59%. Mean daily survival was 0.9993 ± 0.0001 (SE) during the 5-week pre-capture window, was depressed the day of capture at 0.9841 ± 0.0004, and rebounded to 0.9990 ± 0.0008 during the 5-week post-capture window. Neither capture nor handling had a detectable effect on post-capture survival, including handling time (x̄ = 13.30 ± 1.87 min), capture time of year (i.e., Dec or Mar), tooth extraction, and the number of times an animal had been recaptured (2–17 times). Although mortality rate was slightly elevated during capture (resulting from physical trauma associated with capture), age and nutritional condition did not influence the probability of mortality during a capture event. Following a capture event, nutritional condition influenced survival; however, that relationship was consistent with expected effects of nutritional condition on winter survival and independent of capture and handling. Overall survival rates 5 weeks before capture and 5 weeks after capture were not different. A specified window of time with depressed survival following capture and handling was not evident, which contradicts the implementation of a predetermined window often used by researchers and managers for censoring mortalities that occur after capture. Previous notions that censorship of all mortality data in the 2 weeks following capture is unwarranted and risks removal of meaningful data. With previous evidence guiding our protocols for capture (e.g., reduced chase time) and handling (e.g., temperature mitigation), low direct mortality and almost undetectable indirect mortality post capture reinforces the efficacy of helicopter net-gunning for capture and recapture of mule deer in long-term, individual-based studies.

Publication Year 2024
Title Evaluating risks associated with capture and handling of mule deer for individual-based, long-term research
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.22333
Authors Tayler N. LaSharr, Samantha P. H. Dwinnell, Brittany L. Wagler, Hall Sawyer, Rhiannon P. Jakopak, Anna C. Ortega, Luke R. Wilde, Matthew Kauffman, Katey S. Huggler, Patrick W. Burke, Miguel Valdez, Patrick Lionberger, Douglas G. Brimeyer, Brandon Scurlock, Jill Randall, Rusty C. Kaiser, Mark Thonhoff, Gary L. Fralick, Kevin L. Monteith
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70255235
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle