Using Trail Cameras to Study White-Tailed Deer Vigilance Behavior Within an Agroforestry Landscape

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations have grown exponentially in the last century and now provide extensive opportunities for both recreation (e.g., hunting) and property damage (e.g., car collisions and crop damage) in the U.S. However, urban sprawl threatens to undermine our current understanding of wildlife behavior patterns, particularly in mixed-use areas along the urban-natural fringe, while also threatening to increase the frequency of human-wildlife conflicts.

Agroforestry – incorporating trees into farming systems – is one such example of a mixed-use landscape that seeks to minimize human-wildlife conflict by incorporating animal movement corridors into land management. To understand how deer navigate and behave across agroforestry systems, 14 wildlife camera traps were installed within five natural (edge, open, wooded) or farmed (orchard, pasture) environments present at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) in New Franklin, Missouri from August 14th to October 30th in 2020.

Vigilance (I.e., an individual’s visual awareness of its environment) was analyzed to understand how deer behavior changes across different systems and across different demographic compositions. Such behaviors can be valuable indicators of population health as they are directly related to mortality rates, food consumption rates, etc. Vigilance behaviors were identified based on deer posture, with the head above the shoulders being ‘vigilant’, the head below the shoulders being ‘non-vigilant’, and the head being in-line with the shoulders or out of frame as ‘neutral’ or ‘indiscernible’. ‘Sex’, ‘group size’, ‘other species present’, and ‘age’ were also recorded for each picture.

3098 total pictures were captured with deer being successfully recorded at every camera trapping location. A mixed effects logistic regression was performed on the data using R packages ‘lme4’ and “glmertree.” Additional surveys spanning multiple seasons are required to gain an adequate understanding of the changing processes within the agroforestry setting and the potential confounding effects of proximal human activity.

About the Author:

I was born and raised in Imperial, Missouri about half an hour south of St. Louis. I came to Mizzou as a Natural Resource Science and Management major after developing a passion for ecology as an employee at the St. Louis Zoo. At Mizzou, I dedicated my four years to scuba-diving, mountain biking, rock climbing, additional camera-trapping projects, lab and field work, hellbender conservation, and even some ultimate frisbee until eventually graduating magna cum laude in spring 2022. Now, I plan to move to Quincy, California to work with the U.S. Forest Service on an endangered frog conservation project in the Plumas National Forest. After the completion of my job in California, I look forward to applying to master’s programs and pursuing a career in the conservation of endangered species.