Spatial distribution, population density, and reproductive success of many wildlife species may be altered by changes in vegetation composition, habitat structure, and availability of food. Altered distributions of key herbivores such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) may impact all of these factors. Our objective was to determine the direct and indirect effects of supplemental feeding of deer on rodent populations in south Texas. We modeled effects of supplemental feeding and habitat change due to deer browsing through surveys of rodents. Rodents have a short generation time and populations respond quickly to change, so they are a suitable indicator of changes in habitat structure brought about by deer browsing pressure. We sampled rodent populations near to and far from deer feeders within twelve 81-ha enclosures containing three different densities of deer with and without supplemental feed. The three deer densities were low (8.1 ha/deer), medium (3.2 ha/deer), and high (2 ha/deer). We conducted rodent trapping during March and April of 2007 and 2008. Abundance of rodents was much higher (P < 0.001) in 2008 than in the previous year due to an increase in rainfall. However, we found little effect of deer density, supplemental feeding of deer, or distance from deer feeders on rodent populations. Thus we conclude that supplemental feeding of deer and deer density had little influence on rodent communities in this environment. Rodent species native to semi-arid environments are probably adapted to large changes in vegetative productivity brought about by the highly variable annual rainfall patterns, therefore they can adapt to the less abrupt habitat changes resulting from changing densities of deer. Conservation concerns that providing supplemental feed to deer in semi-arid rangeland will disrupt the ecology of the land through changes in rodent populations were not supported.
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Vol. 75 • No. 3