Like people in many Midwestern communities, Bloomington residents must share their lush, green neighborhoods with white-tailed deer. In order to better understand how deer and people interact, Chad Williamson, ’13 MS ’15, biology, is leading a Ball State team to track the animals’ migration patterns.
Under the mentoring of Tim Carter, a Ball State biology professor, Williamson’s team is placing radio collars on fawns to better understand the forces that affect density of the animals in different areas.
“Bloomington was selected because of its mix of vegetation and scenery usually found in a more rural setting,” says Williamson, a resident of Marion, Indiana. “It seems that everywhere we turn, we are finding deer. They’ve not only been found in city parks but in front and backyards, driveways, and walking on many roads in town. They seem to go as they please from rural areas right into the residential and business parts of town.”
Williamson and the research team are spending several months each spring and summer capturing young fawns and then placing radio collars on the animals before releasing them. Once the fawns are being monitored, the researchers will study the animals as they grow, leave their mothers, and set up their own territories for at least six months.
Each radio collar, which expands as the fawn grows, allows the team to monitor the animal’s movement. If an animal dies, the team is alerted by changes in radio signal pulse rate, allowing the researchers to determine location of death and, hopefully, a cause.
“We spend about 5-8 minutes with each deer, taking its statistics before putting on the collar and releasing it,” he says. “Eventually, the data should tell us if fawns survive better in an urban area as opposed to a rural one. That should help us understand how to manage their population.”
Carter believes his graduate student not only has the skills to lead the project but an uncanny ability to work with local residents, since deer are a hot subject in the southern Indiana community.
“Folks on both sides are extremely passionate about the subject,” Carter says. “This project is relatively neutral as it is strictly information-gathering without any sort of agenda for the long-term management of the deer herd, but we still get a lot of polarized views and opinions from the public. Chad is excellent at talking with a variety of publics, and while he is always professional, his warm and cheerful attitude really helps reduce any tensions if there are any.
“Chad leads a team of highly qualified biologists, and together they are doing an outstanding job. They have exceeded my expectations both in terms of effort and productivity. In reality, once I got them sorted out and the project up and running, I feel like more of a distraction than a help when I visit the project each week. I truly could not be happier about having Chad and the rest of the crew working on this project.”
After the project ends in 2015, Williamson plans to continue his studies at the doctoral level.
“This has been an incredible opportunity to not only study large animals like this but also examine their interaction with humans,” he says. “I think the next step would be to study how we as humans are interacting with larger animals, such as elk, that are being reintroduced around the country.”