Using Deer-vehicle Collisions to Map White-tailed Deer Breeding Activity in Georgia

The most commonly used method to determine the timing of breeding for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is to measure fetuses from deceased animals. However, this method is resource-intensive and can only provide data for limited geographic areas. Numerous studies have reported that deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) increase during the breeding season due to increased deer movements associated with breeding activity. Based on these observations, we obtained records of DVCs in Georgia from 2005 - 2012 (n=45,811) to determine when peaks in DVCs occurred for each county in Georgia. We compared the timing of DVC peaks with (1) conception data from three counties in Georgia, (2) deer movement data from a sample of GPS-instrumented male and female deer in Harris County, Georgia, and (3) a popularized 'rut map' for the state that was based on Georgia Department of Natural Resources fetal data as well as hunter observations. We observed high concurrence among timing of peak conception, peak rut movement, and peak DVCs. At the regional level, there were strong similarities between peak DVCs and peak rut. At the county level, peak DVCs were in general concordance with the popular rut map. However, the county-based map of DVCs appeared to provide greater local specificity. For assessing the timing of the breeding season at a county or regional scale, DVC data are cost effective and less susceptible to measurement biases compared to traditional methods employing fetal measurement. In addition, mapping the peak occurrences of DVCs can be used to warn motorists of increased risk associated with deer activity at the local level.

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