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PLoS One. 2013 May 14;8(5):e64548. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064548. Print 2013.

Migrating mule deer: effects of anthropogenically altered landscapes.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho, USA.



Migration is an adaptive strategy that enables animals to enhance resource availability and reduce risk of predation at a broad geographic scale. Ungulate migrations generally occur along traditional routes, many of which have been disrupted by anthropogenic disturbances. Spring migration in ungulates is of particular importance for conservation planning, because it is closely coupled with timing of parturition. The degree to which oil and gas development affects migratory patterns, and whether ungulate migration is sufficiently plastic to compensate for such changes, warrants additional study to better understand this critical conservation issue.


We studied timing and synchrony of departure from winter range and arrival to summer range of female mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in northwestern Colorado, USA, which has one of the largest natural-gas reserves currently under development in North America. We hypothesized that in addition to local weather, plant phenology, and individual life-history characteristics, patterns of spring migration would be modified by disturbances associated with natural-gas extraction. We captured 205 adult female mule deer, equipped them with GPS collars, and observed patterns of spring migration during 2008-2010.


Timing of spring migration was related to winter weather (particularly snow depth) and access to emerging vegetation, which varied among years, but was highly synchronous across study areas within years. Additionally, timing of migration was influenced by the collective effects of anthropogenic disturbance, rate of travel, distance traveled, and body condition of adult females. Rates of travel were more rapid over shorter migration distances in areas of high natural-gas development resulting in the delayed departure, but early arrival for females migrating in areas with high development compared with less-developed areas. Such shifts in behavior could have consequences for timing of arrival on birthing areas, especially where mule deer migrate over longer distances or for greater durations.

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