Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Iowa
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Michel, E.S., J.A. Jenks, K.D. Kaskie,, R.W. Klaver, and W. F. Jensen. 2018. Weather and landscape factors affect white-tailed deer neonates at ecologically important life stages in the Northern Great Plains.. PLoS ONE 13:e0195247


Offspring survival is generally more variable than adult survival and may limit population growth. Although white-tailed deer neonate survival has been intensively investigated, recent work has emphasized how specific cover types influence neonate survival at local scales (single study area). These localized investigations have often led to inconsistences within the literature. Developing specific hypotheses describing the relationships among environmental, habitat, and landscape factors influencing white-tailed deer neonate survival at regional scales may allow for detection of generalized patterns. Therefore, we developed 11 hypotheses representing the various effects of environmental (e.g., winter and spring weather), habitat (e.g., hiding and escape cover types), and landscape factors (e.g., landscape configuration regardless of specific cover type available) on white-tailed deer neonate survival up to one-month and from one- to three-months of age. At one-month, surviving fawns experienced a warmer lowest recorded June temperature and more June precipitation than those that perished. At three-months, patch connectance (percent of patches of the corresponding patch type that are connected within a predefined distance) positively influenced survival. Our results are consistent with white-tailed deer neonate ecology: increased spring temperature and precipitation are likely associated with a flush of nutritional resources available to the mother, promoting increased lactation efficiency and neonate growth early in life. In contrast, reduced spring temperature with increased precipitation place neonates at risk to hypothermia. Increased patch connectance likely reflects increased escape cover available within a neonate's home range after they are able to flee from predators. If suitable escape cover is available on the landscape, then managers could focus efforts towards manipulating landscape configuration (patch connectance) to promote increased neonate survival while monitoring spring weather to assess potential influences on current year survival.