What does the genetic structure of a deer look like? A set of antlers?
Well, no, but researchers at Mississippi State University (MSU) are mapping the DNA of deer in the Southeastern United States.
The purpose of the project is to determine the “true lineage” of deer in the Southeast and examine the effect of past deer restoration projects in the region.
In the early 1900s, there weren’t many deer in the Southeast due to overhunting and habitat loss. State agencies acquired deer from several areas, including Michigan New York, Texas and Mexico, in an effort to restore the population.
Mapping the genetic structure of deer in the Southeast today will offer insight into which restoration efforts were successful. In addition, researchers will learn if Northern deer survived long enough to pass on their genes.
“There is a biological need to genetically differentiate deer throughout the country. This need led to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama state wildlife agencies cooperatively funding this project,” says Steve Demarais, wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture professor in MSU’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
Demarais has collected more than 1,000 samples of deer genetic structure. The samples come from across the country, including known stock sources.
“A landowner recently mentioned to me that in certain areas of Mississippi there are markedly larger deer than the average regional body and antler size. He stated that the area had initially been stocked with northern deer, and as they tend to be larger, those genetics still influenced modern herds. This project will help address the accuracy of those beliefs,” Demarais says.
The MSU Deer Laboratory is conducting the research. It’s funded by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.