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I examined the development of migratory behavior in northern white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from 1975 to 1996 by radio-tracking adult females and their fawns. Of 40 migratory fawns with radio-collared mothers, all returned from winter ranges to their mothers' summer ranges, as did 36 fawns with unknown mothers. Of 1.5- to 3.0-year-old daughters with radio-collared mothers, 67-80% continued migrating with mothers to their traditional summer ranges. Eighty-four percent (16/19) of yearling dispersers continued migratory behavior after replacing their natal summer ranges with their dispersal ranges, and 88% (14/16) of these continued migrating to their natal winter ranges, some through at least 6.5 years of age. Twenty percent (4/20) of nonmigratory fawns dispersed as yearlings, and two became migratory between their dispersal summer ranges and new winter ranges, one through 4.9 years of age and another through 6.5 years. Seven fawns changed their movement behavior from migratory to nonmigratory or vice versa as yearlings or when older, indicating that migratory behavior is not under rigid genetic control. Thus, the adaptiveness of migration must depend upon natural selection operating upon varying capacities and propensities to learn and mimic long-distance movements and not upon migratory behavior directly.
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Development of migratory behavior in northern white-tailed deer