That is the upshot of an intensive study of the traveling behaviors of 173 radio-collared white-tailed deer in south central Wisconsin. The new results, which surprised researchers by revealing how little deer move about the landscape, are important because they may help researchers and wildlife managers better understand how chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreads.
"They are using small home ranges and not traveling long distances," says Nancy Mathews, a wildlife biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. "The only dispersers are young males, and they only go five to seven miles before setting up a new home range."
Mathews and Lesa Skuldt, her student in the UW-Madison department of wildlife ecology, presented findings from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources-funded study recently at the annual Wildlife Society conference held in Madison.
The results of the study are both encouraging and confounding, says Mathews. On the one hand, knowing more about how deer move about the landscape may help scientists home in on how CWD spreads among wild deer. On the other hand, the findings contradict the idea that deer are great travelers, moving long distances and possibly taking the disease with them.
"Based on the behavior of these deer, we cannot account for the distribution of CWD on the landscape," says Mathews who, with her students, conducted intensive, year-round telemetric studies of deer fitted with radio transmitters for the past two-and-one-half years.
"Adult does and their female fawns establish home ranges in the same location where they were born and stay there for their entire life," Mathews explains. "Once young bucks have dispersed, they too establish small home ranges and rarely leave them, even during the rut. Deer are not moving long distances, except for young bucks."