Laboratory Technician University of Wyoming Laramie, Wyoming, United States
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) migration tracks the green wave which is new plant growth along migration paths and in stopover sites. Modern science overlooks why mule deer select these sites. Plants that sprout in the stopover sites are believed to be more nutritious than off the path and this is our understanding of why mule deer chose these paths. The ions and elements of the soil are called cations and anions and are present in the soil naturally which offers the perfect substrate to research as these ions are beneficial to the plant’s growth as well as mule deer nutrition. To study the soil composition and elemental percentage I took GPS collared data from female mule deer from 2018 - 2019 to determine their migration paths on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. I took soil cores close to the GPS location pings from the collars that were on and off the stopover sites along the migration path to determine the ion composition of where we know the mule deer have been located. The samples that were then analyzed in the Flash Smart Elemental Analyzer and Thermo Fisher Ion Chromatography machine to determine the ion composition and elemental percentage.
Ion composition analysis of the stopover sites revealed that the ions were geographically variable and the analytical data was analyzed through Rstudio to determine the concentrations of individual cations and anions. We saw that some ions such as nitrite, phosphate, magnesium and lithium were more concentrated in the stopover sites than on the surrounding migration path. These ions can stimulate the growth of the plant which would give these plants an advantage during growing season as these ions are more available and easier to obtain. The other ions also stimulate growth and help with uptake of water and other nutrients. These ions aren’t shown in more concentration on the stopover sites but rather show more variation off the stopover site. The ion composition of the soil along the migration path and in the stopover sites will help us understand why mule deer choose these spots and continue to visit these spots during their migration periods. I’m an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe and having this knowledge can help both tribes on the reservation to learn how to conserve their mule deer population in the growing industry of oil production by knowing where the mule deer migrate.