Mullinax Lab

Applied Spatial Wildlife Ecology

White-tailed deer in howard county


Like many other states, Maryland has seen a dramatic increase in population density of white-tailed deer in many areas, especially suburban and urban landscapes in the past decades.  As human populations also increased, many suburban and urban communities are experiencing increased deer-human conflicts. Overabundant deer populations led to deer-vehicle collisions, agricultural damage, forestry damage, and damage to individual households.  With Columbia as the first planned community in North America, Howard County experienced the same challenges. The Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and other open spaces provide ideal habitat for white-tailed deer.  Annual managed hunts have been conducted by Howard County Deer Management Team at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and other natural areas since 1998 in order to reduce deer population densities.  Currently, no quantitative data exists for deer use of natural areas and parks, like the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, compared to adjacent subdivisions in Howard County.   These data would allow county managers to better quantify the impact of hunting on reducing deer-human conflicts in adjacent subdivisions.  Previous research indicated that deer may alter their use of suburban areas over the diel period or seasonally; thus, an understanding of the spatial and temporal use of the community by deer is important.  Spatial and temporal dynamics of habitat use, home range, and movements will provide a better understanding of how deer use developed and undeveloped areas in a suburban landscape. Furthermore, white-tailed deer are the primary host for adults of the blacklegged tick in the northeast. As the host of adult ticks, white-tailed deer allow ticks to mate, acquire a blood meal by female ticks prior to production of eggs.  The population explosion of white-tailed deer has been implicated in the emergence of several zoonotic tickborne diseases, including Lyme disease, in the Northeast.  But, the relationships among deer population, tick density and incidence of Lyme disease remain to be understood. Although population management of white-tailed deer, including deer exclusion and population reduction, has been suggested as part of integrated tick management in order to control ticks, details about the role of deer in supporting and spreading ticks in an urban environment like Howard County remains to be determined.