by Elina Garrison
Throughout the state, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are one of the most valued and sought-after game species. In South Florida, deer are also the most important prey species of the endangered Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi). In recent years, particularly in the southern portion of the Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) and Everglades National Park, the area has experienced deer declines. Previous deer research in the BCNP region dates back to the early 1990s. Since that time, the area has changed significantly, including hydrological changes, an increase in the panther population, and changes in other predator populations. Therefore, there was a need for up-to-date information on deer survival and causes of mortality to better understand deer ecology in South Florida. In addition, there was a need for a cost-effective monitoring methodology for more reliable deer density estimates to guide long term management.
To address these research and management needs, FWC partnered with the University of Georgia and other agencies to begin a large-scale, multi-year study called “The South Florida Deer Research Project.” Since 2015, the team has captured and fitted over 200 deer with GPS collars in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Bear Island and North Additional Units of BCNP. We are also using trail cameras, in combination with the marked deer, to develop a monitoring tool. In addition, cameras provide information on fawning period, recruitment, timing of antler casting, and activity patterns of deer relative to season, weather events, and human activity. The study will continue through 2018. For more information and quarterly updates, please visit the South Florida Deer project website: http://myfwc.com/hunting/by-species/deer/project/