Natural Resources, School of


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A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science Major: Natural Resource Sciences Under the Supervision of Professor Scott E. Hygnstrom Lincoln, Nebraska August, 2010 Copyright 2010 Travis Kinsell


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has become a concern for wildlife managers and hunters across the United States. High prevalence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in older male white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) suggests that sex-specific social behavior may contribute to the spread of the disease among males. Scraping is a marking behavior performed by male white-tailed deer during the rut in which a pawed depression and associated over-hanging branch are marked with saliva, glandular secretions, urine, and feces. We placed 71 and 35 motion-activated cameras on scrapes in DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in western Nebraska and eastern Iowa from Oct. – Nov. 2005 and Sept. – Nov. 2006, respectively. We recorded 5009 encounters and 1830 direct interactions. We developed an ethogram of behaviors of interest at scrapes. We found that males interacted with scrapes more frequently than females (P < 0.001). Male interactions were more complex, with 69% consisting of ≥2 observed behaviors versus 25% and 13% for females and fawns. We identified individual male deer ≥2.5 years old and determined the minimum number of different scrapes individuals visited and the number of individuals that visit a single scrape. Individuals that appeared on camera ≥5 times visited a mean of 3.9 scrapes (range = 1-15) and traveled a mean minimum distance of 978 m between consecutive scrapes. A mean of 5.1 individuals visited a single scrape, and up to 43% of individuals returned to a scrape previously visited at least once. We modeled Risk Values based on frequency of occurrence, duration, and Threat Values of each behavior, for contacting and transmitting CWD prions at scrapes. Adult males had the highest total Risk Values for contacting CWD prions (114.1) and shedding prions (59.4). The “grasp-lick branch” behavior had the highest Risk Value for adult males for both contacting and transmitting prions. Our study reveals a sex specific social behavior in male white-tailed deer that has the potential to spread chronic wasting disease between adult males in the population.