Jones, M.L. 1996. Influence of Social Organization on the Dispersal and Survival of Translocated Female White-Tailed Deer. M.S. Thesis, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, 101 pp.

Abstract: This experiment is one part of a multi-faceted study of deer ecology on the Huntington Wildlife Forest (HWF). The foundation of this research began in the late 1960's and focused on habitat use on HWF. It expanded in the mid-1980's and 1990's to focus on predator and prey interactions and behavior. The results of these studies have begun to identify alternative strategies of managing deer.

Initial studies conducted during 1969-1977 investigated the seasonal movement patterns of deer on the HWF (Tierson et al. 1985). This work identified a social organization within the population, based on separate summer and winter ranges. Tierson et al. (1985) found that animals maintained high fidelity to their respective summer ranges and exhibited minimal dispersal from their natal areas. Further, this work concluded that location of summer ranges was based on social factors rather than habitat mediated.

The pattern of deer social organization found on HWF by Tierson et al. (1985) was confirmed and extended by Mathews (1989) and Underwood (1985, 1990). Underwood examined demographic characteristics of the population while Mathews (1989) investigated social structure and genetic structure. Mathews (1989) found social groups are composed of related females which form overlapping ranges and associate throughout the year. She described patterns of home range establishment with the rose petal theory. The rose petal theory suggests that within a group, matriarchal does are located near the center and younger individuals establish home ranges that overlap radiating outward (Porter et al. 1991). The social groups on HWF were identified to be both geographically and genetically distinct from each other (Mathews and Porter 1993). This social structure led to the development of hypotheses of alternative population management. If females remain in social groups, then population reduction, via the removal of the entire social group, should be possible.

Studies during 1990-1991 on HWF, substantiated groups identified by previous studies and investigated the spatial composition within groups (Aycrigg 1993; Aycrigg and Porter 1996). They further confirmed Mathews (1989) hypothesis that older, dominant does within groups have little overlap and are generally spatially isolated from each other. This provided additional support for alternative management at the level of a social group.

In 1993 two studies were initiated. The first tested the rose petal hypothesis. This research focused on removing nearly all members from a target social group on HWF and monitoring the movements of deer in areas surrounding the target group (Hill 1995; Hill et al. 1996). Hill et al. (1996) found that female deer in adjacent areas do not disperse into the region vacated by the removed deer. The second study is fully described in this thesis. It focuses on the behavior of translocated deer and whether social structure mediates movements and survival.

Abstract: Translocating of social groups have resulted in high success in a variety of social species. This study tested the hypotheses that: 1) female white-tailed deer translocated with other social group members, have lower post-release dispersal and higher survival than deer translocated without social bonds; and 2) movements of deer at the release site are not affected by translocating. A social group of 12 females and a "control" group of 5, randomly selected females were translocated from a well-studied population in northern New York and released together in May and June 1994. Radio-tracking indicated no difference in dispersal behavior between treatments. Mean dispersal distance of all translocated deer was 23.5 km and distances did not differ between treatments (P > 0.87). Post-parturient females disbursed farther than females released while pregnant or barren (P < 0.05). Home range size of translocated deer after one year post-release were similar to those of resident deer. Movements during the first month after release may predict survival. Annual survival rates for the social and "control" group were 0.45 and 0.60, respectively, and did not differ between treatments (P > 0.46). Coyote predation was the primary source of mortality of translocated deer. Translocated deer had lower survival than resident deer at the release site (P < 0.06). Radio-tracking of resident deer pre-and post-release indicated no movement response to the translocation. This study indicates social structure is not an important element in post-translocation dispersal and survival of white-tailed deer. Translocating do not influence the movements of resident deer at the release site.