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Estimating abundance of Sitka black-tailed deer using DNA from fecal pellets

TitleEstimating abundance of Sitka black-tailed deer using DNA from fecal pellets
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsBrinkman, TJ, Person, DK, Chapin III, SF, Smith, W, Hundertmark, KJ
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management

Densely vegetated environments have hindered collection of basic population parameters on forest-dwelling ungulates. Ourobjective was to develop a mark–recapture technique that used DNA from fecal pellets to overcome constraints associated with estimatingabundance of ungulates in landscapes where direct observation is difficult. We tested our technique on Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionussitkensis) in the temperate coastal rainforest of Southeast Alaska. During 2006–2008, we sampled fecal pellets of deer along trail transects in3 intensively logged watersheds on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. We extracted DNA from the surface of fecal pellets and used microsatellitemarkers to identify individual deer. With genotypes of individual deer, we estimated abundance of deer with moderate precision (20%) usingmark–recapture models. Combining all study sites, we identified a 30% (SE ¼ 5.1%) decline in abundance during our 3-year study, which weattributed to 3 consecutive severe winters. We determined that deer densities in managed land logged >30 years ago (7 deer/km2, SE ¼ 1.3)supported fewer deer compared to both managed land logged <30 years ago (10 deer/km2, SE ¼ 1.5) and unmanaged land (12 deer/km2,SE ¼ 1.4). Our study provides the first estimates of abundance (based on individually identified deer) for Sitka black-tailed deer and the firstestimates of abundance of an unenclosed ungulate population using DNAfrom fecal pellets. Our tool enables managers to accurately and preciselyestimate the abundance of deer in densely vegetated habitats using a non-invasive approach. 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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