i have a lethal test to study for

One Week from Today (i.e. May 7, 2017): Thesis Fieldwork Begins

Yep. Time to get my hands dirty … figuratively.

This is my first post regarding my thesis, so to sum up, here’s what it’s about:

I will be testing a non-lethal method of deterring an over-abundant population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from suburban backyards through the use of life-sized, lifelike coyote (Canis latrans) models alongside samples of coyote urine. A trail camera will be installed to record the deer’s reactions (or lack thereof) to the models. For the control, each yard will also have a period in which no coyote models will be present, and instead of coyote urine, distilled water will be sprayed along a portion of the backyards to reduce bias in my study. Along with yards, a few sites within a state reservation (from which the deer are coming from) will be used as well.

This all stems from my love of ethology—the study of animal behavior under natural conditions (as opposed to an in-lab setting), which views behavior as an evolutionarily adaptive trait. As a kid, when I was not watching endless amounts of nature documentaries, I would often spend my time out in nature simply observing the turkeys, squirrels, and insects around me, and how they go about their business (both of which I still do today). 

On a more serious note, the state park which I will be spending some of my time in over the coming weeks has been receiving a fair amount of publicity due to a series of culls of its over-abundant deer population. These culls (which began in autumn 2015 in a certain portion of the reservation) have been met with backlash by some members of the public, who see the lethal removal of a portion of the deer as a “needless slaughter of innocent creatures,” and believe in “letting nature take care of itself.” The issue is that non-lethal alternatives of deer control (such as contraception or fertility control) are much costlier than lethal methods, and, even more-so, they ultimately fail to reduce such populations, as they do not directly address the deer’s over-abundance.

Over-abundant deer populations result in a cacophony of negative consequences, namely an increase in (the frequency of): deer-vehicle collisions, backyard herbivory, and spread of tick-born illnesses (e.g. Lyme disease) and non-native plant species. It is through my behavioral study that I will attempt to reduce the amount of backyard herbivory performed by this particular deer population, but ultimately, the public must become educated as to why lethal methods of deer control MIGHT be the only means to successfully manage such populations of such a common backyard species.

Until then, here’s a still image from a nine-second video clip from a pilot study I did last summer. As you can see, this doe here isn’t particularly frightened by my lone coyote (she’s actually licking it; no urine was used for the pilot study, just a single coyote model and trail camera).