This project is focused on how disturbance, especially fire, affects nutrition, predation, and competition for mule deer in the forested Northwest. For example, this region once supported British Columbia’s most productive mule deer population, which has declined since the 1970s in spite of increasingly restrictive hunting regulations. At the same time, a number of landscape changes, including increasing older forest stands and abundance of white-tailed deer, make it difficult to isolate mechanisms causing the decline. Recent large-scale fires provide the rare opportunity for a landscape-scale experiment on how disturbance affects mule deer demography, resource selection, and community relationships.
What’s driving the decline of mule deer– Is it competition for forage? Declines in forage quality and abundance? Or increases in white-tailed deer and thus in shared predators?
Our study questions include:
1) how landscape factors including disturbance affect community dynamics among predator and prey species at different temporal and spatial scales, and impacts on mule deer forage and exposure to predation
2) how nutritional quality of habitat, competition, and predation impacts adult female fitness (body condition, survival, and reproductive performance) and fawn recruitment, and use these individual responses to understand population-level consequences of landscape change
3) how deer respond at different temporal and spatial scales to the landscape of nutrition, predation risk, and competition, and what role fire and other disturbance plays in these processes.
The project is highly collaborative, with a project team that includes the gilbert lab, Dr. Adam Ford's WIRE lab at University of British Columbia – Okanagan as well as the BC Wildlife Federation, wildlife managers from the British Columbia government, Idaho Department of fish and Game, and the Okanagan Nation Alliance.