Pennypack Hosts Cutting-Edge Deer Research

Buck with radio tracking collar. Photo by K. Roth, 2016.

Since 2006, Pennypack’s stewardship staff and the biology faculty at Bryn Athyn College have been working collaboratively to develop a better understanding of the aspects of the lives of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) living in the Pennypack Preserve, including the density of the herd and the movement patterns of its members.

Deer Numbers and Densities
Damage to native vegetation, a lack of natural regeneration of forest trees, and continuing high numbers of deer killed on local roadways all testify to the fact that deer are abundant in the Pennypack Preserve. But just how many deer are there? Using automated infrared cameras, the researchers have begun to estimate the density of the deer herd. The scientists have placed cameras throughout the preserve in a variety of habitats and have been using proven wildlife biology protocol to evaluate the information. Data collection is ongoing, and densities are not yet available.

Deer Movement Patterns
Much is known about the typical movement of deer in rural and agricultural landscapes where most deer research has been conducted. Biologists know much less about the movement of deer in urbanized natural areas like the Pennypack Preserve. The researchers’ second goal is to understand better how the preserve’s deer move—both within the natural area and between the natural area and neighboring properties. To achieve this goal, the research group has been trapping deer and fitting the animals with collars that electronically transmit the animals’ location every five minutes. Computer software that accompanies the collars allows the researchers to plot highly detailed maps of the animals’ movements. To date, the group has tracked sixteen deer for periods of up to three months. Some patterns are already obvious. For example, the bucks moved more frequently on a daily basis than did the does. In addition, human automobile traffic has an effect on deer movement, with deer moving more freely when human traffic is lighter.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has issued a deer trapping permit that will allow the researchers to continue their work through 2020.
This research is supported by the Grant Doering Research and Study Fund, an endowed fund established specifically to foster cooperative research between the Pennypack Trust and Bryn Athyn College. The college has also provided additional support for the project.