Previous studies indicate that white-tailed deer prefer to reside in coniferous forest types. The purpose of this study was to determine the forest type preference of white-tailed deer in Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge. Adolphe, Gupta, Lee, and Powers hypothesized that the mean number of deer pellet counts in coniferous forests would be significantly greater than the mean number of pellet counts in deciduous forests. Deer pellets were used as indicatives of population density to confirm which of the two forest types was preferred by the white-tailed deer.
The study was conducted at Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge (MNNWR) in Lorton, Virginia. MNNWR, with a latitude and longitude of N 38° 38' 57.3”, W 77° 10' 38.1853", is located approximately 30 kilometers south of Washington D.C., as shown in Figure 1 (Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, 2007).
MNNWR is 941 hectares in size, and is the largest freshwater marsh in Northern Virginia with 115 hectares and nearly 16 kilometers of shoreline (State Parks, 2008). The refuge, positioned along the Potomac River apart of the Chesapeake watershed, consists of oak-hickory forest, freshwater marshes, and shoreline (State Parks, 2008). Mason Neck contains 36 different species of trees and contains 809 hectares of hardwood trees (Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, 2007). The hardwood trees in the refuge include Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), oak (Quercus), hickory (Carya), beech (Fagus), and maple (Acer) trees (Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, 2007).
The study was centered along two roads: Anchorage Road (N 38°37'42.48”, W 77°11'29.99") and Sycamore Road (N 38°38'15.29”, W 77°10'6.74") (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013). Researchers in groups of three or four observed 68 plots, 40 along Anchorage Road and 28 along Sycamore Road.
All researchers gathered the results every two weeks on the following fall and winter days: October 25th, November 8th, November 25th, December 4th, and December 18th, 2013. On October 25th, researchers cleared all of the plots of pellet groupings from the spring and summer months. On all subsequent trips to MNNWR, researchers counted, recorded, and then cleared each plot by picking up the pellet groups with gloves and dislodging them from the plot area.
Researchers staked plots with a marker 22 meters from either Anchorage or Sycamore Road, with a few markers starting fairly close to each road. They placed a second marker approximately 22 meters from the first marker closest to the road. Each plot had a rectangular area of 22 meters by 3.5 meters. Figure 2 shows an aerial perspective of Anchorage Road, indicated in yellow, and Sycamore Road, indicated in green, from about 1.6 kilometers in the sky.
The pellet-group count method, established by Bennett, English, and McCain (1940), was operated in the study by the members of a group standing side-by-side, and walking the extent of the plot in search of pellet...