Hurricane Katrina Impacts to White-tailed Deer on John C. Stennis Space Center

Limited information is available regarding wildlife responses to hurricane-related disturbances. We monitored white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) by spotlight counts on NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC) during fall-winter periods from 2002-2004 before Hurricane Katrina's landfall and from 2006-2008 post-hurricane to index changes in relative population size. Comparisons of survey results during pre- and post-hurricane periods indicated that deer numbers were stable in years following hurricane landfall. Average number of deer recorded during spotlight counts was 26.7 deer/night pre-hurricane (31 survey nights) and 47.2 deer/night post-hurricane (20 survey nights), and average number of young-of-year/night (YOY) increased from 2.8 pre-hurricane to 14.7 post-hurricane. Herd health evaluations by Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks on SSC revealed increased body weights and kidney fat levels for adult females following Hurricane Katrina. We suggest that more forage was available for deer after Hurricane Katrina because downed trees and salvage timber removal opened overstory and stimulated growth of mid-story and groundcover vegetation which resulted in improved body condition and a possible increase in herd productivity. Although our study did not investigate direct mortality of deer from Hurricane Katrina, deer spotlight counts on SSC pre- and post-hurricane suggest that the deer population responded favorably to hurricane-induced habitat alterations.

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