Social behavior of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) can have important management implications. The formation of matrilineal social groups among female deer has been documented and management strategies have been proposed based on this well-developed social structure. Using radiocollared (n = 17) and hunter or vehicle-killed (n = 21) does, we examined spatial and genetic structure in white-tailed deer on a 7,000-ha portion of the Savannah River Site in the upper Coastal Plain of South Carolina, USA. We used 14 microsatellite DNA loci to calculate pairwise relatedness among individual deer and to assign doe pairs to putative relationship categories. Linear distance and genetic relatedness were weakly correlated (r = −0.08, P = 0.058). Relationship categories differed in mean spatial distance, but only 60% of first-degree-related doe pairs (full sibling or mother–offspring pairs) and 38% of second-degree-related doe pairs (half sibling, grandmother–granddaughter pairs) were members of the same social group based on spatial association. Heavy hunting pressure in this population has created a young age structure among does, where the average age is < 2.5 years, and < 4% of does are > 4.5 years old. This—combined with potentially elevated dispersal among young does—could limit the formation of persistent, cohesive social groups. Our results question the universal applicability of recently proposed models of spatial and genetic structuring in white-tailed deer, particularly in areas with differing harvest histories.
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Vol. 69 • No. 1