PSU Deer Study

Am I the only one that sees the irony in Donna Summer singing a song entitled Hot Stuff?  Probably not.  While Ms. Summer correctly noted the temperature of last season, she doesn’t mention precipitation.  It was a hot, dry summer.

Unlike Homo sapiens, deer cannot retreat to the A/C or run to the fridge for a cool beverage.  Does a hot, dry summer affect their movements?  Does that refreshing mountain stream become a popular destination? 

Remember Buck 12783 and his bachelor pad. This time of year his home range straddles two ridges. There are no discernible streams (that you’d find on a topographic map anyway).

When it was really dry this summer, did he spend more time in the valley or perhaps near one of those indiscernible streams?

Most mammals can only live a few days without water. Some do have special adaptations to conserve water, such as the camel.  One could easily get lost in the convoluted nasal cavity of a camel.  These extra twists and turns help to extract moisture before breath is expelled.  Smart!

Or consider the kangaroo rat, a desert-dwelling rodent.  They don’t sweat, pant or ever drink water!  They eat seeds high in carbohydrates.  Water is created when their body metabolizes the seeds. For every gram of seed it obtains, half a gram of water is gained through oxidation.

What about deer? Well, deer are not camels or kangaroo rats and they make a lot of spit.  Water is lost from their body at such a rate that a deer’s health may be jeopardized if water is not replaced in 24 to 48 hours.  Water restriction can reduce feed intake up to 63%.  So being low on agua means more than being thirsty.  It could potentially affect body condition and productivity.  

There are many places a deer may obtain water.  There is, of course, free water (meaning water in a liquid form) but our friends are also herbivores.  And plants contain variable amounts of the wet stuff depending on the type of vegetation and the time of year.  For example, vegetation in the spring probably is 90% water. 

So back to Buck 12783. Here are his locations in the summer of 2015.

12783-2015 Summer

On the southern edge of his boundary there is a named stream that exists on the topo map.  He crossed it maybe a dozen times or so.

Here are his locations for 20 May – 20 Sep in 2016. Again, he crossed the named stream about a dozen times.

12783-2016 Summer

So do drought conditions affect deer movements and/or home range in Pennsylvania? Not according to Buck 12783.

But then again, we are talking about a buck.  What do they do all summer but sit around and wait for their antlers to grow.  Females on the other hand are pumping out liquid like nobody’s business.  Does lose water giving birth and lactating.  Milk ranges in water content from 66-77%.  And they are lactating all summer.

So if the Hot Stuff we experienced this past summer is going to affect anyone, it might be those hard working moms.  

We’ll let you know what we find out.

Duane Diefenbach and Jeannine Fleegle

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