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Identification of factors limiting mule deer populations in the White Sands Missile Range San Andres National Wildlife Refuge area with emphasis on effects of chronic wasting disease and risks associated with chronic wasting disease


May 2004 - December 2009


Mule deer have declined to remnant status in large areas of the Tularosa Basin, San Andres Mountains, and adjacent areas in southern New Mexico. Reasons for the declines are unknown; thus, effective population recovery strategies cannot be developed. Moreover, chronic wasting disease (CWD) was recently diagnosed in populations in these areas, which injects several novel questions into recovery issues. First, what are the risks associated with recovering mule deer populations in infected areas in terms of spreading CWD to adjacent populations? Second, does CWD have a population-level effect on either mortality or productivity that would mitigate recovery efforts? Further, can CWD be managed in an infected population to allow both recovery and control of CWD? Currently, effective management options are lacking for control of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in free-ranging populations; control strategies currently employed by management agencies have either been ineffective in halting the spread of CWD or have not been evaluated for success. Inherent to the lack of effective management options is a lack of understanding of the role, process, and impacts of CWD in free-ranging deer populations; each of these is important to understanding the risk associated with CWD and the level (and type) of management necessary to address the risk. Thus, this project will concurrently evaluate the effectiveness of disease management strategies, develop critical information of the epizootiology of CWD to allow identification and development of new strategies, and determine mule deer population dynamics, habitat relations, and factors currently limiting populations in Chihuahuan desert habitats.

The goal of this project is to characterize population dynamics and habitat relations of mule deer in the WSMR-SANWR complex, to determine which factors are limiting current mule deer populations and what risks CWD may pose for recovery of mule deer populations in this area. Encapsulated within this overall goal are subgoals of developing and evaluating the efficacy of control measures associated with CWD. Specific objectives associated with these goals include:

1. Determine prevalence of CWD in mule deer on WSMR/SANWR and in adjacent areas (San Andres Mountains).
2. Determine survival and cause-specific mortality of mule deer in WSMR/SANWR and adjacent populations
3. Determine mule deer health and condition and its influence on pregnancy, fawn production, and survival.
4. Determine production and survival of fawns in study populations.
5. Determine movement patterns and population exchange of mule deer on WSMR/SANWR and adjacent populations.
6. Determine past and current habitat characteristics and quality in terms of the ability of the landscape to support and produce mule deer.
7. Determine whether occurrence of CWD is localized (associated primarily with a specific geographic area and a specific matrilineal band) or generalized (likely direct; occurring throughout infected populations and across social group bounds) in the population.
8. Evaluate habitat characteristics associated with occurrence of CWD and determine whether habitat manipulations can be implemented to discourage deer use of these focal areas.
9. Evaluate effectiveness of NMDGF control measures on preventing spread of CWD from WSMR to other locations on and adjacent to WSMR.


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 102

Masters Students: 241

Phd Students: 163

Post Docs: 58

University Staff: 240

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 703

Scientific Publications: 1901

Presentations: 4321



  • Louis BenderPrincipal Investigator

Funding Agencies

  • White Sands Missile Range

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