Partial migration is a common life-history strategy among ungulates living in seasonal environments. The decision to migrate or remain on a seasonal range may be influenced strongly by access to high-quality habitat. We evaluated the influence of access to winter habitat of high quality on the probability of a female white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) migrating to a separate summer range and the effects of this decision on survival. We hypothesized that deer with home ranges of low quality in winter would have a high probability of migrating, and that survival of an individual in winter would be influenced by the quality of their home range in winter. We radiocollared 67 female white-tailed deer in 2012 and 2013 in eastern Washington, United States. We estimated home range size in winter using a kernel density estimator; we assumed the size of the home range was inversely proportional to its quality and the proportion of crop land within the home range was proportional to its quality. Odds of migrating from winter ranges increased by 3.1 per unit increase in home range size and decreased by 0.29 per unit increase in the proportion of crop land within a home range. Annual survival rate for migrants was 0.85 (SD = 0.05) and 0.84 (SD = 0.09) for residents. Our finding that an individual with a low-quality home range in winter is likely to migrate to a separate summer range accords with the hypothesis that competition for a limited amount of home ranges of high quality should result in residents having home ranges of higher quality than migrants in populations experiencing density dependence. We hypothesize that density-dependent competition for high-quality home ranges in winter may play a leading role in the selection of migration strategy by female white-tailed deer.
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Vol. 99 • No. 1