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Thursday, August 9 • 11:40am - 12:00pm
Conservation & Restoration Track: How Do They Weather the Storm: White-tailed Deer Movement and Habitat Selection During Hurricane Irma

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AUTHORS: Heather Abernathy-Conners, Virginia Tech

ABSTRACT: Extreme weather events (ECEs) can have dramatic impacts on biological systems. However, little information exists on how large mammals cope with such events. Hurricane Irma, hit southwest Florida on September 10, 2017 where we were monitoring 50 white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; hereafter deer) with GPS collars. The eye of hurricane Irma passed within 13 miles of our study area bringing 11.74 inches of rain and sustained winds of 134 mph. We utilized this opportunity to examine survival, movement patterns, and habitat selection of deer during such an event. No collared deer died during the storm. The storm impacted deer movement, with males moving more. During Irma, deer selected for upland habitats such as pine forests and avoided lower elevation marshes. Further, many deer (F:53% and M:25%) left their seasonal home ranges during the storm, likely to seek higher elevation habitat. No collared deer died during the storm suggesting that deer behavioral strategies effectively mitigated potential negative impacts of Hurricane Irma. To our knowledge, this study is the first to use GPS collar data to elucidate survival, movement rates, and habitat selection by deer during a hurricane. Broadly, our findings highlight the importance of mobility and access to refugia, i.e., higher ground, with regard to wildlife vulnerability to ECEs. Documenting such adaptions can inform management and a growing body of ECE literature.

Thursday August 9, 2018 11:40am - 12:00pm
Assembly Hall C

Attendees (4)