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3 June 2016 Do indirect bite count surveys accurately represent diet selection of white-tailed deer in a forested environment?
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Context . Diet selection is studied in herbivores using three predominant methods: (1) microhistological surveys (identification of plants cell walls remaining in gut contents or faecal excretions); (2) direct bite counts (of tame animals); and (3) indirect bite counts (identifying herbivory on damaged plant tissues). Microhistological surveys and direct bite counts are accurate and provide the potential advantage of linking diet selection to particular individuals. Also, they allow diet selection to be measured in systems with sympatric herbivores more easily than indirect bite counts. However, they require expertise in cell wall structure identification or access to tame animals, and generally require greater expense than indirect bite counts. Conversely, indirect bite counts have the advantages of relatively low cost and time commitment for gathering data and do not require animal observation, but may not be accurate.

Aims . We tested for similarity between diet-selection estimates calculated by indirect bite counts and microhistological surveys.

Methods . We performed concurrent indirect bite count and faecal microhistological surveys on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at Fort Bragg Military Installation, NC.

Key results . The indirect bite count survey assignment of selection was 48% similar to assignments derived from the microhistological survey, based on Jaccard’s similarity index. Out of 23 plant species determined to be selected by indirect bite counts, 15 of those species were selected according to microhistological surveys. According to the microhistological survey, eight of the selected plants made up 51% of the overall diet, and seven of those eight were selected according to the indirect bite counts.

Conclusions . Our data indicate that indirect bite counts may provide a relatively accurate index of the deer-selected plants most important in the white-tailed deer diet, but may be less appropriate to determine selection of plants that infrequently occur in their diet, plants that are typically consumed in entirety, or plants where herbivory damage is poorly identified.

Implications . Indirect bite counts are a relatively inexpensive and time-efficient tool that may be useful to determine plant species most important to white-tailed deer within a forested landscape, particularly if additional research can improve on associated inaccuracies.

© The authors 2016
Marcus A. Lashley, M. Colter Chitwood, Garrett M. Street, Christopher E. Moorman, and Christopher S. DePerno "Do indirect bite count surveys accurately represent diet selection of white-tailed deer in a forested environment?," Wildlife Research 43(3), 254-260, (3 June 2016).
Received: 16 January 2015; Accepted: 1 March 2016; Published: 3 June 2016

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