Geographical Variation in Nutritional Quality of White-tailed Deer Forage Plants in Louisiana

Land managers and researchers strive to understand factors influencing white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations and develop methods to improve habitat. Evaluating forage quality across variable habitat types and soil regions may assist land managers interested in improving habitat quality. We placed 570 plant sampling exclosures across nine primary habitat types in Louisiana and collected plant samples representing consumable forage from each exclosure during summer 2012. Each sample was dried and those with ≥ 10g of dry matter were analyzed for crude protein, total digestible nutrients, and trace minerals to assess forage quality within each major habitat type across Louisiana. We also assessed potential relationships between crude protein, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium concentrations of preferred white-tailed deer forages in each habitat with 10 year averages of body mass and antler size for 4.5+ year-old male deer harvested in each habitat type. Samples collected from longleaf flatwoods habitats exhibited the poorest average nutritional quality, whereas samples from bottomland hardwood habitats generally had greatest nutritional value. We noted a significant correspondence in body mass and antler measurements of mature male deer among habitat types with forage calcium concentrations. We observed no significant relationships between body mass or antler measurements and any other measure of nutritional value among habitat types.

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