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Variation in Gastrointestinal Characteristics of Male and Female White-Tailed Deer: Implications for Resource Partitioning

Jonathan A. Jenks, David M. Leslie Jr., Robert L. Lochmiller, M. Anthony Melchiors
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1382488 1045-1053 First published online: 18 November 1994


We assessed variation in intestinal lengths and gut capacity of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We hypothesized that differences in morphology of males and females could have important implications relative to intersexual variation in patterns of habitat use and forage acquisition. Deer were collected from study areas in McCurtain Co., Oklahoma, and Howard and Pike counties, Arkansas. Populations of white-tailed deer in McCurtain and Howard counties were in poorer nutritional condition than deer in Pike Co. possibly because of competitive interactions with cattle stocked on study areas in McCurtain and Howard counties. Lactating females had longer gastrointestinal tracts and more digesta within their rumens and intestines than did males in summer and winter. Lactating females also had longer intestinal tracts and more digesta in rumens and intestines than did pregnant females during winter. Nonpregnant females in winter were primarily fawns with low body mass, but did not differ from adult females or males relative to gastrointestinal characteristics. Females collected from Pike Co. in winter had less digesta in rumens and intestines than did other populations. Additionally, deer collected from Pike Co. in winter had proportionately less digesta in rumens and more digesta in intestines than other populations. Our findings indicated that sexual segregation of populations of white-tailed deer in summer results from females attempting to maintain maximum volume of digesta in gastrointestinal tracts; winter segregation might be influenced by dietary selection.

Key words
  • Habitat use
  • digesta
  • gastrointestinal capacity
  • intestines
  • Odocoileus virginianus
  • rumen
  • white-tailed deer
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas

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