UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Juvenile white-tailed deer that strike out to find new home ranges — despite facing more risks — survive at about the same rate as those that stay home, according to a team of researchers who conducted the first mortality study of male and female dispersal where deer were exposed to threats such as hunting throughout their entire range.
Dispersal occurs when a juvenile leaves the area where it was born and moves to a new location where the young animal establishes its adult home range, explained Duane Diefenbach, Penn State adjunct professor of wildlife ecology. The instinctual dispersal of young deer from the area where they were born to a new home range protects the species’ gene pool from inbreeding with close relatives.
Diefenbach’s research group in the College of Agricultural Sciences has radio-collared hundreds of Pennsylvania deer over the last 20 years, monitoring their survival, movement and behavior. Earlier research done by his lab, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, revealed that about three of every four young, male white-tailed deer disperse, with yearling female dispersal rates much lower.