Characteristics of Dominant and Subordinate Led Social Groups of White-Tailed Deer in Illinois

By Nixon, Charles M.; Mankin, Philip C. et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, April 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Characteristics of Dominant and Subordinate Led Social Groups of White-Tailed Deer in Illinois

Nixon, Charles M., Mankin, Philip C., Etter, Dwayne R., Hansen, Lonnie P., Brewer, Paul A., Chelsvig, James E., Esker, Terry L., Sullivan, Joseph B., The American Midland Naturalist


This study of dominant and subordinate led social groups of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was designed to investigate longevity and associations among members as well as the reproductive success that determines the durability of these groups. Characteristics of 25 dominant and 17 subordinate female led social groups of white-tailed deer were studied on three areas in Illinois. Group size for dominant led social groups ranged between 3.8 and 5.2 deer/y and for subordinate led groups only 2-2.5 deer. Dominant females survived significantly longer (8.2 y) then did subordinate females (5.4 y) and fawns born to dominants were significantly more sedentary after independence. Fawn recruitment (fawns alive at 1 y) was also significantly higher for fawns born to dominant females. Members of a dominant female's social group generally confined themselves to the home range of the dominant female but as they aged were seen less often with her. Dominant females occupied stable habitats free of environmental problems while subordinates occupied ranges with frequent natural and human induced disturbances. By association, fawns of dominant females inherit a stable home range that fosters improved longevity and successful fawn recruitment

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


How social groups form and maintain stability through time has not been well documented in the Midwest Agricultural Region. Permanent cover is scarce and fragmented in this Region, and female whitetails exhibit high levels of dispersal or migratory behaviors manifested in response to high spring population densities and limited parturition sites prior to agricultural crop maturation (Sparrowe and Springer, 1970; Vercauteren and Hygnstrom, 1994; Brinkman et al, 2005; Nixon et al, 2007, 2008). Social bonding among ruminants appears to have evolved as a means to better compete for resources and to aid in avoiding predation (Weckerly, 1999) . Family groups develop when the inclusive fitness of offspring that remain sedentary exceeds that of offspring that disperse from their natal range (Emlen, 1994).

White-tailed deer society is organized as groups of related deer that are led by a dominant matriarch surrounded by various relatives of both sexes that share portions of the matriarch's home range (Nixon et al, 1991; Porter et al, 1991; Miller and Ozoga, 1997). As dominance seems to be a function of age in white-tailed deer (Townsend and Bailey, 1981), the key to obtaining a dominant position is survival to an adequate age (Porter et al, 1991). Females must live long enough on a stable home range to produce offspring that perpetuate landscape tenure, with die matriarch and daughters able to fend off competing conspecifics.

Female fawns learn about their female relatives as early as the first month of life and this familiarity continues throughout life (Schwede et al, 1994; Tang-Martnez, 2001). Social inheritance of a home range among females evolves because selection should favor minimal dispersal of females, allowing grouping to reduce predation risk (Nelson and Mech, 1981). Proliferation of these social groups located on the most secure home ranges maintains the highest number of deer closest to the safest landscape (Nelson and Mech, 1981 ; Ozoga et al, 1982; Mathews and Porter, 1993; Mathews et al, 1997).

In this paper we were concerned with the effects of social rank on individual characteristics such as longevity and reproductive success, rather than how social rank was obtained at the time of capture (through dyad encounters won and lost) . Dominant and subordinate rank refers to the female social position in the population as a whole based on years of deer observations on the study areas, often from shortly after birth until death. We compare the frequency of association, survival, fawn recruitment and dispersal rates for known dominant and subordinate females and their offspring on three study areas in Illinois where female dispersal is a prominent characteristic of population dynamics.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Characteristics of Dominant and Subordinate Led Social Groups of White-Tailed Deer in Illinois


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?