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Microsatellites indicate minimal barriers to mule deer Odocoileus hemionus dispersal across Montana, USA

January 1, 2013

To better understand the future spread of chronic wasting disease, we conducted a genetic assessment of mule deer Odocoileus hemionus population structure across the state of Montana, USA. Individual based analyses were used to test for population structure in the absence of a priori designations of population membership across the sampling area. Samples from the states of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah were also included in the analysis to provide a geographic context to the levels of population structure observed within Montana. Results showed that mule deer across our entire study region were characterized by weak isolation by distance and a lack of spatial autocorrelation at distances > 10 km. We found evidence for contemporary male bias in dispersal, with female mule deer exhibiting higher mean individual pairwise genetic distance than males. We tested for potential homogenizing effects of past translocations within Montana, but were unable to detect a genetic signature of these events. Our results indicate high levels of connectivity among mule deer populations in Montana and suggest few, if any, detectable barriers to mule deer gene flow or chronic wasting disease transmission.