From December 2001 to December 2004 we monitored 30–44 adult female mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) annually to assess the factors affecting survival and cause-specific mortality. We found adult female survival of 0.63 (SE = 0.08), 0.90 (SE = 0.05), and 0.91 (SE = 0.04), 2002–2004, respectively. Starvation was the most common cause of mortality, accounting for 11/23 mortalities. Mean ingesta-free body fat (IFBF) levels of adult females in December were low (6–9%), despite few (0–13%) lactating adult females, indicative of extremely nutritionally deficient summer–autumn ranges throughout the study site. A priori levels of IFBF and rump body condition scores (rBCS) were higher in deer that survived the following year regardless of cause of mortality. Logistical analysis indicated that models containing individual body fat, rBCS, mean population body fat, winter precipitation, precipitation during mid- to late gestation, and total annual precipitation were related (χ2 ≥ 9.1; P ≤ 0.003) to deer survival, with individual IFBF (β = −0.47 [SE = 0.21]; odds ratio = 0.63 [0.42–0.94]) and population mean IFBF (β = −1.94 [SE = 0.68]; odds ratio = 0.14 [0.04–0.54]) the best predictors; with either variable, probability of dying decreased as fat levels increased. Fawn production was low (2–29 fawns/100 ad F) and, combined with adult survival, resulted in estimated population rates of increase of −35%, −5%, and 6% for 2002–2004, respectively. Deer survival and population performance were limited in north-central New Mexico, USA, due to poor condition of deer, likely a result of limited food resulting from both drought and long-term changes in plant communities. Precipitation during mid- to late gestation was also important for adult female survival in north-central New Mexico.
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Vol. 71 • No. 4