Are camera surveys useful for assessing recruitment in white-tailed deer?
Camera surveys commonly are used by managers and hunters to estimate white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus density and demographic rates. Though studies have documented biases and inaccuracies in the camera survey methodology, camera traps remain popular due to ease of use, cost-effectiveness, and ability to survey large areas. Because recruitment is a key parameter in ungulate population dynamics, there is a growing need to test the effectiveness of camera surveys for assessing fawn recruitment. At Savannah River Site, South Carolina, we used six years of camera-based recruitment estimates (i.e. fawn:doe ratio) to predict concurrently collected annual radiotag-based survival estimates. The coefficient of determination (R2) was 0.445, indicating some support for the viability of cameras to reflect recruitment. We added two years of data from Fort Bragg Military Installation, North Carolina, which improved R2 to 0.621 without accounting for site-specific variability. Also, we evaluated the correlation between year-to-year changes in recruitment and survival using the Savannah River Site data; R2 was 0.758, suggesting that camera-based recruitment could be useful as an indicator of the trend in survival. Because so few researchers concurrently estimate survival and camera-based recruitment, examining this relationship at larger spatial scales while controlling for numerous confounding variables remains difficult. Future research should test the validity of our results from other areas with varying deer and camera densities, as site (e.g. presence of feral pigs Sus scrofa) and demographic (e.g. fawn age at time of camera survey) parameters may have a large influence on detectability. Until such biases are fully quantified, we urge researchers and managers to use caution when advocating the use of camera-based recruitment estimates.