Movement of white‐tailed deer in contrasting landscapes influences management of chronic wasting disease

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Movement of white-tailed deer in contrasting landscapes influences management of chronic wasting disease

The creation of a management zone is necessary when chronic wasting disease (CWD) is detected in wild cervids. We inform the appropriate size of these management zones using empirical distributions of dispersal and migration distances of white-tailed deer in active CWD management zones in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. We encourage the development of formalized assessments of the tradeoffs associated with optimizing decisions about creation of CWD management zones across white-tailed deer populations that exhibit variation in dispersal behavior and caution against an arbitrary size or shape or one-size fits-all approach to creation of disease management zones.

Abstract

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) continues to expand in distribution and prevalence across North America. Upon detection, either for the first time in a novel area or in a region with an existing outbreak, wildlife management agencies are tasked with responding to mitigate the disease. This response often entails creation or modification of a management zone with modified rules and regulations that support an agency’s disease management plan. To guide the process of creating an appropriately sized CWD management zone, assuming that wild deer movements are a major risk factor for disease spread, we used data from global positioning system (GPS)-collared white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in southeastern Minnesota and southcentral Pennsylvania, USA, between 2018 and 2021 to estimate long-distance movements associated with dispersal and migratory behaviors. These contrasting study areas with active CWD outbreaks permitted an evaluation of deer movement dynamics in different parts of their range. We quantified the proportion, distribution, timing, and orientation of dispersing and migratory deer. We observed 21% of female and 58% of male yearlings disperse from their apparent natal home range in Minnesota, while in Pennsylvania 4% of female and 68% of male yearlings dispersed. We also documented 20% of females and 6% of males migrated between seasonal home ranges in Minnesota, while in Pennsylvania no females and 5% of males migrated. The average distance deer dispersed or migrated in Minnesota was 20 km and 11 km, respectively, while in Pennsylvania male deer dispersed only about 4 km. Both sexes in Minnesota tended to disperse in a consistent, westerly direction; however, there was no directional preference observed for migratory deer or for dispersing deer in Pennsylvania. We found differences between natal and adult home range size for both sexes in Minnesota but not for males in Pennsylvania. Our results identify the considerable variability in dispersal and migration dynamics of white-tailed deer in disparate landscapes, which is important to agencies managing CWD. We summarize the distribution of these movements and suggest agencies use this information to help make decisions about optimal management zone size. We suggest the development of formalized assessments of the tradeoffs associated with optimizing decisions about creation of CWD management zones across white-tailed deer populations that exhibit variation in dispersal behavior and suggest careful evaluation to avoid using an arbitrary size or shape to create disease management zones.

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