Study shows how glaciers affected deer evolution

Mar 26, 2009 by Brian Wallheimer

( -- A 10-year study of mule and black-tailed deer has found unique subspecies created by the animals' responses to climate change thousands of years ago.

Gene Rhodes, Purdue University professor of forestry and natural resources, said DNA analysis of more than 1,700 deer throughout North America shows how the movement of glaciers segregated certain groups of deer and how that affected their genetic makeup. Glacial movement about 18,000 years ago isolated and black-tailed deer to areas that were suitable for their survival, sometimes cutting them off from each other. Those groups -- located in Alaska and Canada, and south along the U.S. West Coast to Mexico -- evolved genetically to deal with those conditions, creating several subspecies.

"From a conservation standpoint, it's important to know if you have unique or rare subspecies," Rhodes said. "We uncovered a tremendous diversity of unique groups of mule deer that could need management attention. You can't protect them if you don't know they are there."

Rhodes worked with Jim Heffelfinger, a regional game specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department who coordinated the collection of , and Emily Latch, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who was a post-doctoral researcher under Rhodes. Their work was published in the early online version of Molecular Ecology this past week.

The created through the project is one of the most extensive for any wildlife species in North America, Rhodes said.

Conservation officials can use the information to protect deer in specific areas and conserve contained in unique subspecies. Heffelfinger said conservation officials also could use the data to ensure there isn't too much co-mingling between subspecies.

"We can identify black-tailed and mule deer hybrid zones and areas where they are interbreeding and figure out what it is about that area that is bringing them together," Heffelfinger said. "Maybe there are things we can do with the habitat to maintain the integrity of the species."

Rhodes' research shows how mule deer and black-tailed deer reintegrated into some areas around the Rocky Mountains and, in some cases, interbred. He said that information could be valuable to hunting organizations that keep records of trophy deer to ensure a black-tailed deer isn't actually a hybrid of a black-tail with a mule deer, which could look like a very large black-tail.

"They want a way to confirm that a particular animal is what they think it is," Rhodes said. "By mapping these deer, we're taking the first step in helping clarify their records and achievements."

Several wildlife non-governmental groups funded Rhodes' research. His next step is to get a better understanding of where black-tailed and mule deer interact and find ways to better manage rare subspecies.

Provided by Purdue University (news : web)

Explore further: Rock-paper-scissors model helps researchers demonstrate benefits of high mutation rates

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Extinct giant deer relative found in U.K.

Sep 07, 2005

University College London scientists say DNA tests have identified the closest living relative to the extinct Irish Elk, or giant deer, living in England.

Maine weather wreaking havoc on deer

Mar 30, 2008

Deer living in Maine and other portions of New England are likely battling starvation because of the region's tough winter, biologists say.

Deer denigrate Pennsylvania forests

Apr 02, 2007

Pennsylvania natural resources officials say the state's forests aren't showing any new growth because of overgrazing by deer.

Rhode Island deer tick effort under way

Nov 04, 2005

Thirty tick-killing bait stations have been deployed in Rhode Island for what's believed to be the largest tick control project in the nation.

Deercam TV project

Oct 27, 2005

The University of Missouri-Columbia says it has developed a wireless video camera that's placed on a deer's head to see how it behaves away from humans.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

( —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.