Productivity of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus Raf.) populations is closely linked to individual nutritional condition. We modeled body fat of individual does as a function of vegetation cover, composition, and water characteristics of their annual, summer, and winter home ranges in north-central New Mexico. We also modeled home range size as a function of the same characteristics. Levels of body fat were most closely and negatively related to the amount of pinyon-juniper in an individual deer's annual home range (F1,21 = 7.6; P = 0.012; r2 = 0.26). Pinyon-juniper types provided little (combined ground cover of preferred forbs and shrubs = 5.7%) mule deer forage but were included in home ranges in excess of their availability on the landscape, likely because of security cover attributes. Proportion of grasslands in home ranges was most strongly related to both annual (F1,23 = 4.9; P = 0.037; r2 = 0.18) and summer (F2,25 = 5.7; P = 0.009; r2 = 0.31) home range sizes, and home ranges increased as the grassland component increased, indicating that this habitat type was providing little value to mule deer. Grassland (0.2% combined cover of preferred forb and shrub) and montane conifer (3.2% ground cover of preferred forb and shrub) habitat types similarly lacked preferred mule deer food, and grasslands also lacked cover. Most immediate gains in mule deer habitat in north-central New Mexico may be attained by management of pinyon-juniper communities to increase forage quantity and quality while maintaining cover attributes. Gains can also be realized in grasslands, but here management must establish both cover and forage.
Additional publication details
Habitat effects on condition of doe mule deer in arid mixed woodland-grassland