When hunters want to learn about deer, they head into the woods. When scientists want to learn more, they turn to NASA.
Utah State University ecologist David Stoner, with USU colleague Tom Edwards of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Utah Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Joseph Sexton and Jyoteshwar Nagol of the University of Maryland and Heather Bernales of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources used a NASA-funded study using satellite imagery to explain mule deer demography from the White Mountains of central Arizona to the Wasatch Range of northern Utah.
Their findings were published in the Feb. 5, 2016, issue of PLOS ONE. The researchers used satellite data on vegetation by monitoring precipitation to track the reproductive success of the mule deer.
“Among the questions we’re asking is why do fawn counts vary so much across space and from year to year?” Stoner says. “We expected peak plant productivity and, therefore, fawn births to occur earlier in the southern-most parts of our study area, but that wasn’t the case. We thought the milder winters and greater amount of monsoonal moisture during summer would give expectant mothers an advantage.”
The researchers discovered that because of the variable climate in lower latitudes—a rain show might result in growth one day and the next, sunshine and high temperatures kill it—meant less consistent food.
Deer in higher altitudes have longer access to vegetation despite the harsh winters. Researchers expect the climate and vegetation method they use to aid wildlife managers in decisions regarding hunting and other human-deer interactions.