A common yet largely untested assumption in the theory of animal movements is that increased rates and a wider range of movements, such as occurs during breeding, make animals more vulnerable to mortality. We examined mortality among 34 white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) wearing GPS collars during the autumn breeding season of 2006 and 2007 in a heavily hunted, forest-agricultural landscape of central New York state. We evaluated whether individuals having higher rates of movement incurred higher rates of mortality and whether mortality risk was higher when deer were in less familiar areas. We used a Cox proportional hazards model to analyze how mortality risk changes with movement rates measured over 3 time periods: < 1 day, up to 2 weeks prior to death, and 3–4 weeks prior to death. Overall, deer increased their movement rates as autumn progressed, males more so than females. However, deer that died moved at a slower rate relative to surviving deer up to 2 weeks prior to death (ß = -2.22 ± 0.81; 95% confidence interval [CI] = -3.91 to -0.51) and a slower rate on their day of death compared to deer that survived (ß = -1.77 ± 0.73; 95% CI = -3.19 to -0.33). Site familiarity was not significantly related to mortality risk. Deer were equally likely to die within their 50% core use area as elsewhere within their autumn home range. We hypothesize that increased sociality associated with breeding may make animals more vulnerable to harvest mortality. Our findings contradict general assumptions about the influences of movement behavior on mortality risk, suggesting that patterns may be sensitive to the spatiotemporal context of the movement analysis.
Additional publication details
Movement behavior preceding autumn mortality for white-tailed deer in central New York