Variation in White-tailed Deer Antler Size: The Effects of Age, Landscape Composition, and Physiographic Province

Spatial variation in landscape composition can influence phenotypic expression in wildlife species and can improve management efforts to express certain phenotypic traits. We evaluated the influence of age, landscape composition, and physiographic province on white-tailed deer (Odo- coileus virginianus) antler characteristics using data from 16,622 male deer (age range: 1.5–3.5+ years old) harvested between 1997–2016 across five physiographic provinces in Georgia. Age and physiographic province influenced antler size index (ASI; P < 0.001). ASI of yearling males was greatest (x- = 53.37; SE = 0.39) in the Upper Coastal Plain and least (x- = 46.23; SE = 0.51) in the Lower Coastal Plain physiographic province. Given the differences in ASI among physiographic provinces, we evaluated how landscape composition within each physiographic province influenced ASI of 7,325 yearling (1.5-year-old) males. Yearling ASI was positively related to increasing coverage of cultivated crops and suburban-urban areas (e.g., parks, small housing developments). Conversely, evergreen and deciduous forested cover consistently had a negative effect on ASI, except in the Ridge and Valley physio- graphic province where evergreen was positively related to ASI. Wildlife managers and hunters should recognize the effects of age, landscape composition, and physiographic province when setting antler size expectations.

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