Botanical composition of mule deer and elk diets in winter, spring, summer, and autumn was studied during 1998 and 1999 on woodland rangeland in north-central New Mexico using microhistological analysis of fecal samples. Our study area had no livestock grazing for 60 years but was moderately grazed by mule deer and elk. Elk and mule deer shared 3 of the top 5 key forage species when diets were pooled across seasons and years. These 3 species were oak (Quercus sp.), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl.), and mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.). When data were pooled across seasons and years, overall dietary overlap between mule deer and elk was 64%. Diet overlaps of 50% or more occurred between mule deer and elk in all 4 seasons in both years of study. Throughout both years, mule deer and elk diets were dominated by browse. Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus Raf.) was the most abundant browse plant in mule deer diets; ponderosa pine was most abundant in elk diets. Both animals selected forbs, which were in low supply during the study. Scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea Pursh), a nutritious forb, was common in both mule deer and elk diets. Our study and others from woodland rangelands in New Mexico show high potential for forage competition between mule deer and elk. Elk are more dietarily adaptable to changing forage availability than are mule deer. Our study indicates that diets of mule deer and elk are not complementary on woodland rangelands in New Mexico. Therefore, grazing capacity is not increased by common-use grazing of the 2 animals. Both mule deer and elk herds have been increasing on our study area. Therefore, if use of common forage species is kept at moderate levels on southwestern woodland rangelands, mule deer herds can be maintained or increased when elk are present.
Rangeland Ecology and Management
Vol. 58 • No. 4
Vol. 58 • No. 4