At least one tally in Florida is clear these days: there are considerably more male deer than does, a recent study reports. And this is good news for the population during hunting season, which in central Florida opened over the weekend. In fact, hunters more often aim for the bucks. They are more prized for trophy value and in many states, shooting animals without antlers is illegal or restricted. But research by Ron Labisky, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, reveals that such patterns dont threaten the native white-tailed population as much as might be expected. In regions where hunting stands to decimate the bucks, the females give birth to many more male fawns than female ones. We dont usually give animals due credit for their persistence, especially deer, Labisky says. With males-only hunting, it is very, very difficult to deplete a deer population.
Labisky and his colleagues examined the reproductive tracts of 380 does taken legally from four different areas in Florida. In two of the four areasthe Tosohatchee State Preserve and Eglin Air Force Basehunting is not allowed; in the other twoCamp Blanding Wildlife Management Area and the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areait is. More than 90 percent of the does collected were pregnant, but the gender of the fetuses they carried differed significantly. In the hunted areas, males made up 56 percent of the pregnancies, compared to only 39 percent in the off-limits regions. And the does from hunted areas were also far more likely to be carrying twins: 38 percent compared to only 14 percent. Labisky described the finding in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
To explain the difference between the two groups, Labisky points to the does reproductive cycles. They are typically in heat for about 72 hours, and the later they breed during this period, the more likely they are to have male fetuses. In related research, he found that does usually wait for bucks to find them to mate, but in areas where the bucks are fewer due to hunting, the does seek them out. Even still, they are less likely to find bucks as quickly as the bucks would ordinarily find them in non-hunted regions. Hence, they breed later and the gender of their offspring is more often male. Tune in next year for the recount.