Modeling Habitat Use and Road Based Disturbance of Mule Deer in New Mexico

2019-01-17T14:36:09Z (GMT) by Daniel E. Bird

As human activity expands across the globe, disturbance of wildlife by anthropogenic activities such as fragmentation of habitat, and wildlife-human conflicts escalate. The Pueblo of Santa Ana is receiving pressure from road expansion and urban development and is concerned with the impacts of those activities upon wildlife populations. Specifically, mule deer is a species of concern for their Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Mule deer are important economically, culturally, and for recreational purposes. The DNR understands the need for better understanding mule deer ecology to manage for potential conflicts in their interactions with expanding human infrastructure. My objectives were first to model mule deer habitat use in and around the Pueblo of Santa Ana during the summer and winter at different times of the day. My second objective was to understand the relative impacts of different scenarios for road development in the Pueblo of Santa Ana upon the disturbance of mule deer using an Individual Based Modeling (IBM) framework.

Using Geospatial Positioning System telemetry collar data collected on mule deer I used proximity based habitat predictors in a general linear mixed model to create resource selection functions. Generally I found that the season had a greater impact on mule deer habitat use than the time of day. Female and male mule deer select for similar habitat but sexually segregate in their summer distributions. My findings are consistent with results from other locations where mule deer studies have been conducted. In chapter two, I used the Simulation of Disturbance Activities (SODA) modeling framework to investigate the impact of vehicles on mule deer disturbance response behaviors, alert and fleeing. Using this framework I compared a baseline scenario to road expansion scenarios (DamRoad, ByPass, DeerCrossing) estimating the frequency of disturbance behavior of mule deer for each such scenario. My results show that mule deer were disturbed most in the baseline model. There were no significant differences in the frequency of disturbance for female mule deer across scenarios. Male mule deer did have some significant differences in alert and fleeing behavior across scenarios. My results may be a function of assumptions made in my modeling. Specifically, I assumed that mule deer would shift their areas of activity to new portions of the Pueblo of Santa Ana in response to altered habitat quality caused by new roads. If mule deer did not shift their areas of activity accordingly, my models may provide inaccurate assessments of disturbance patterns.

In conclusion my findings are similar to results from other locations. Specifically, the inferences that roads and road development are important to consider for mule deer management transcends variation associated with the unique characteristics of the Pueblo of Santa Ana mule deer population. Finally, my results suggest that the use of an IBM modeling framework has the potential to provide insights into the disturbance of mule deer by vehicular traffic even if my conclusions were constrained by study design.