Frequency of large rangeland wildfires may increase in the southwestern United States and northeastern Mexico as a result of exotic grass invasion and reduced emphasis on livestock production, but effects of such fires on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are poorly documented. A large wildfire burned > 90% of the 6 151-ha Chaparral Wildlife Management Area in southern Texas during March 2008, creating an opportunity to study short-term effects of wildfire on white-tailed deer food habits, body condition, and pregnancy. We harvested 26 female deer between 7 April and 20 June 2008 and recorded dressed body weight, body condition, number of corpora lutea, and number and size of fetuses. We used rumen contents to quantify forage classes consumed. Deer ate prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) pads and emergent grasses during April and shifted to forbs and browse as vegetation communities recovered. Deer consumed mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) beans and prickly pear fruit during mid-June. Body condition measures did not vary during the collection period, suggesting deer were able to acquire sufficient nutrients to meet requirements. Fetal development rate appeared normal. Precipitation (11.4 cm) during late April and May probably allowed vegetation to recover from the wildfire. White-tailed deer are resilient opportunists and were able to maintain body condition and pregnancy after a large-scale wildfire.
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Vol. 65 • No. 3