White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are important game mammals and potential reservoirs of diseases of domestic livestock; thus, diseases of deer are of great concern to wildlife managers. Contact, either direct or indirect, is necessary for disease transmission, but we know little about the ecological contexts that promote intrasexual contact among deer. Using pair-wise direct contacts estimated from Global Positioning System collar locations and joint utilization distributions (JUDs), we assessed habitats in which contacts occur to test whether direct contact rates among female white-tailed deer in different social groups differs among land-cover types. We also tested whether contact rates differed among seasons, lunar phases, and times of day. We obtained locations from 27 female deer for periods of 0.5–17 months during 2002–2006. We designated any simultaneous pair of locations for 2 deer <25 m apart as a direct contact. For each season, we used compositional analysis to compare land-cover types where 2 deer had contact to available land-cover weighted by their JUD. We used mixed-model logistic regression to test for effects of season, lunar phase, and time of day on contact rates. Contact rates during the gestation season were greater than expected from random use in forest and grassland cover, whereas contact rates during the fawning period were greater in agricultural fields than in other land-cover types. Contact rates were greatest during the rut and lowest in summer. Diel patterns of contact rates varied with season, and contact rates were elevated during full moon compared to other lunar periods. Both spatial and temporal analyses suggest that contact between female deer in different social groups occurs mainly during feeding, which highlights the potential impact of food distribution and habitat on contact rates among deer. By using methods to associate contacts and land-cover, we have created beneficial tools for more elaborate and detailed studies of disease transmission. Our methods can offer information necessary to develop spatially realistic models of disease transmission in deer.
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Vol. 72 • No. 8