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Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Population-level effects of immunocontraception in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Allen T. Rutberg A C and Ricky E. Naugle B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Environmental and Population Health, Tufts–Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, 200 Westboro Road, North Grafton, MA 01536, USA.

B The Humane Society of the United States, 700 Professional Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20879, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Wildlife Research 35(6) 494-501
Submitted: 4 September 2007  Accepted: 6 June 2008   Published: 22 October 2008


In North America, dense populations of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in suburbs, cities and towns have stimulated a search for new population-management tools. Most research on deer contraception has focused on the safety and efficacy of immunocontraceptive vaccines, but few studies have examined population-level effects. We report here results from two long-term studies of population effects of the porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccine, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, and at Fire Island National Seashore (FIIS), New York, USA. Annual population change at NIST was strongly correlated with population fertility (rP = 0.82, P = 0.001); when population fertility at NIST dropped below 0.40 fawns per female, the population declined. Contraceptive treatments at NIST were associated with a 27% decline in population between 1997 and 2002, and fluctuated thereafter with the effectiveness of contraceptive treatments. In the most intensively treated segment of FIIS, deer population density declined by ~58% between 1997 and 2006. These studies demonstrate that, in principle, contraception can significantly reduce population size. Its usefulness as a management tool will depend on vaccine effectiveness, accessibility of deer for treatment, and site-specific birth, death, immigration, and emigration rates.


We are indebted to our many supporters and collaborators at NIST, especially Rhonda Hurt and John Kennedy. Lowell Adams and his students at the University of Maryland also played key roles in the project, as did Pat McElroy at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Mary Foley of the National Park Service (NPS) and the FIIS staff consistently supported and contributed to the work there. Brian Underwood of the Biological Resources Division of the US Geological Survey, his students, and NPS staff collected and analysed the FIIS population data. And of course we thank our long-time collaborators, Jay Kirkpatrick, John Turner, and Irwin Liu, who helped set up and advise us on both studies. Funding and logistic support was provided by HSUS, NIST, the NPS, and the residents of Fire Island, all of whom have earned our deep gratitude.


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