Mule Deer Ecology and Population Dynamics in Montana

MS Theses, Teagan Hayes & Collin Peterson

Widespread decreases in hunter harvest and abundance estimates for mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) have been reported in many parts of Montana over the last few decades. The drivers of these declines are complex, but may be attributable to declines in suitable habitat and available nutrition on the landscape. To better manage populations of mule deer in Montana, it is essential to understand factors driving habitat selection.

Our research focuses on 3 regions where little research on mule deer has been conducted: the Rocky Mountain Front, the Whitefish Range, and the Salish Mountains. In winter 2017-2018, we plan to deploy GPS collars on 30 does in each of these regions to study summer habitat use. Within each population, we will determine the forage items and habitat types individual mule deer select for in summer and compare how nutritional quality varies between those habitat types. We are interested in how landscape-altering processes like forestry and fire affect habitat quality. Interestingly, initial findings indicate that migratory strategies vary within each of these populations, so we will also compare movements within home ranges and habitat quality with respect to migratory strategy. We aim to infer how differing habitat selection strategies could affect fitness. Our findings will shed light on mule deer ecology in these regions.