Date of this Version
The Prairie Naturalist 46:34–38; 2014
Understanding bed-site selection and vegetation characteristics provides valuable information for population management (Verme 1977, Huegel et al. 1985a, Nelson and Woolf 1987). Predation and other natural-caused mortalities of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) neonates are most likely to occur within the first 60 days of life; a time period when selected habitat characteristics are vital to survival (Verme 1977, Hue- gel et al. 1985a, Nelson and Woolf 1987, Grovenburg et al. 2010). Prior to the study of Grovenburg et al. (2010), limited research had been completed on the bed-site selection of neonatal white-tailed deer in the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains. In north-central South Dakota, increase in vertical height of vegetation was the most important habitat characteristic at bed sites, which likely pertained directly to protection from predation and thermal insulation (Grovenburg et al. 2010, 2012a). Our objective was to describe the physical and vegetative characteristics of bed sites selected by neonatal white-tailed deer in the grassland dominated landscape of central North Dakota. We hypothesized that neonatal white-tailed deer would select bed sites characterized by relatively high understory vegetation to moderate ambient temperatures resulting in favorable microclimates for maintaining thermal neutrality while providing concealment from predators.
We studied neonatal white-tailed deer in Burleigh County in central North Dakota, which comprised an area of 2,652 km2. The study area was located within the Northwestern Glaciated Plains level III Ecoregion (Bryce et al. 1998) and was characterized by significant surface irregularity and high concentration of wetlands (United States Department of Agriculture 2011). Long-term (30-year) mean summer temperatures ranged from 13.1° C to 27.5° C and mean (30- year) annual precipitation was 44.9 cm (North Dakota State Climate Office 2012). Nearly all land within the region was used for agricultural purposes. Grasslands and croplands dominated the landscape at 66.2% and 21.0%, respectively. Additionally, wetlands and water comprised 7.4%, developed land 5.2%, and other land uses <1% of the landscape (United States Department of Agriculture 2011). Furthermore, Burleigh County had 4,884 ha in Wildlife Management Areas, 6,844 ha in National Wildlife Refuges, and 4,546 ha in Waterfowl Production Areas (C. Penner, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, personal communication).