Influence of Body Size on Dietary Nutrition of White-Tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus
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Intraspecific competition is one of the major factors that can have an effect on the resources utilized within a habitat. Differences in diet quality of selected forage have been noted in size-dimorphic ungulates. However, on an intraspecific basis, data demonstrating a body size influence on diet quality are lacking. We examined diet quality across a range of body masses (14–76 kg) in white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus (n = 108) in a 2,628-ha enclosure at Kerr Wildlife Management Area, Kerr County, Texas, USA. The quality of the diet consumed was determined by crude protein, acid detergent fiber, and neutral detergent fiber content of digesta in the rumen– reticulum. Results indicated that in relation to body mass, the ratio of crude protein to acid detergent fiber was greater for smaller bodied white-tailed deer. By consuming a diet higher in crude protein than did large bodied individuals, small-bodied individuals should meet their high mass-specific metabolic demands more efficiently. Furthermore, selective foraging by different-sized individuals might also reduce intraspecific competition. Information presented herein is relevant to wildlife managers in that by increasing available high-quality forage, small-bodied individuals will more efficiently meet their metabolic demands, which could have ramifications on recruitment within that population.