Mule Deer Conservation and Management

Project purpose

The southern mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus) conservation and management research project aims to improve upon past deer population surveys in San Diego County. With more accurate population characteristic and location data, we can inform more effective management decisions, as well as further investigate and better address population health, landscape fragmentation, and other factors that may impact the deer.

A need for better understanding of southern mule deer population

Historically, deer population size has been derived from uncorrected data obtained from helicopter surveys. However, data collected from aerial surveys can underestimate population size and result in low precision due to visibility bias and inefficient sampling design.

Well-designed monitoring strategies are vital to obtaining data required to adequately determine population characteristic data, such as population size and male to female ratios. These more robust mule deer population data can then be used to effectively manage them in San Diego County, where deer are managed as both a game species and a species of conservation interest.

In collaboration with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), IEMM is currently working to address these deer population data needs.

Research approaches

One of our research approaches involves obtaining a more robust deer population count by using multi-modal data collection methods in the field. As such, we use GPS telemetry, ground-based surveys, fecal DNA sampling, and remote cameras to validate aerial survey estimates.

In addition, we use statistical and spatial analysis methods to further improve the accuracy and reliability of our population estimates.

Additional research questions

In addition to addressing the research needs of CDFW to improve management of southern mule deer as a game species, we are also investigating questions of conservation concern. These questions address:

  • Disease and health status of deer
  • Impacts of habitat fragmentation on deer movement and landscape connectivity
  • Gene flow among populations of southern mule deer in San Diego County

SDSU Project Team