Using Condition Indicators to Evaluate Habitat Quality for White-tailed Deer

We examined the usefulness of condition profiles, incorporating postmortem morphologic, physiologic, and dietary indices from fall-harvested deer and seasonal fecal indices of diet quality, for evaluating differences in habitat quality between adjacent populations of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). This study was conducted on East Range (4.5% of 12,000 ha cultivated) and West Range (0.8% of 18,000 ha cultivated), Fort Sill Military Reservation, southwestern Oklahoma, from November 1987 to August 1989. Analysis of postmortem blood and digesta samples revealed that deer collected from East Range consumed higher quality diets than deer from West Range, where cultivation was lower. Seasonal analyses of fecal nitrogen and cell-wall constituents supported observed differences in postmortemsamples. Our study indicates that morphological indices were not sensitive to the apparent differences in habitat quality between the 2 ranges. However, physiological and dietary indices may provide wildlife managers a practical and sensitive means for early detection of changes in habitat quality.

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