Date of this Version
The expansion of the cellulosic biofuels industry throughout the United States has broad-scale implications for wildlife management on public and private lands. Knowledge is limited on the effects of reverting agriculture to native grass, and vice versa, on size of home range and habitat use of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We followed 68 radio-collared female deer from 1991 through 2004 that were residents of DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) in eastern Nebraska, USA. The refuge was undergoing conversion of vegetation out of row-crop agriculture and into native grass, forest, and emergent aquatic vegetation. Habitat in DNWR consisted of 30% crop in 1991 but removing crops to establish native grass and wetland habitat at DNWR resulted in a 44% reduction in crops by 2004. A decrease in the amount of crops on DNWR contributed to a decline in mean size of annual home range from 400 ha in 1991 to 200 ha in 2005 but percentage of crops in home ranges increased from 21% to 29%. Mean overlap for individuals was 77% between consecutive annual home ranges across 8 years, regardless of crop availability. Conversion of crop to native habitat will not likely result in home range abandonment but may impact disease transmission by increasing rates of contact between deer social groups that occupy adjacent areas. Future research on condition indices or changes in population parameters (e.g., recruitment) could be incorporated into the study design to assess impacts of habitat conversion for biofuel production.