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Twenty-year Home-range Dynamics
of a White-tailed Deer Matriline


As part of long-term research on deer and wolf (Canis lupus) ecology, we studied six female deer during 1976-1996, all inhabiting a 3-km² area bordering Gabbro Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota (48° N, 93° W) (Nelson and Mech 1981, 1986a, 1986b; Nelson 1993, 1995, 1998). The region is dominated by coniferous and deciduous forest described comprehensively by Heinselman (1996). All matriline members in this study migrated 10 km annually between their Gabbro Lake summer range and their Kawishiwi Campground wintering area 13 km SE of Ely, Minnesota (Nelson and Mech 1987; Nelson 1998).

Summer deer densities approximated 0.3-0.7 /km² during 1976-1983 to 2.5 deer/km² during 1984-1988 (Nelson and Mech 1986b; Nelson 1990), and density remained unknown but high through 1995. The females in this matriline were legally protected from hunting and only died from wolf predation.

We captured most deer with other matriline members by rocket net during winter, aged adults using cementum annuli of fourth incisor (canine) (Gilbert 1966), radio-collared the deer, and located them from aircraft a minimum of 1 or 2 times per week except during June-September 1980-1996, when BWCAW management policy only permitted higher altitude confirmation of deer presence on summer range. We located deer by canoe weekly during June-August in 1988 and 1990. Tracking error was 2 and 4 ha for aerial tracking (Hoskinson 1976) and canoe tracking (M. E. Nelson, unpublished data), respectively. We additionally confirmed summer range presence from ground positions 1.5 km from the Gabbro Lake summer range. Distributions of locations and summer range presence were examined to evaluate spatial use by individual deer.

We presumed 7- to 10-month-old fawns to be the offspring of the adult females with which they were captured because of the close association between mothers and offspring up to 1 year of age (Hawkins and Klimstra 1970; Nelson and Mech 1981; Nelson 1993). We considered postmigration home ranges in June to be natal ranges of all fawns and permanent movement >4 km from them to be natal dispersal (Nelson 1993).

For clarity and ease of remembering relationships between deer, we named individual deer with respect to the matriarch of the matriline. The letters D, G, and GG preceding individual numbers denote the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of the matriarch, respectively.

The animals selected for this analysis were the only deer we have studied that provided the combination of longevity, known family relatedness, and recapture over time that allows analysis of long-term spatial dynamics of related individuals.

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