Faculty and students in Mississippi State University's College of Forest Resources took top honors at the recent 41st annual meeting of the Southeastern Deer Study Group, marking the first time in the conference's four-decade history that one school has swept the competition.
MSU graduate students in MSU's Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture took first, second and third place in the annual student oral presentation competition. Steve Demarais, the Dale H. Arner Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management, received the prestigious Deer Management Career Achievement award, which was established in 1995 to recognize outstanding contributions to white-tailed deer ecology and management.
"These awards are a marker of the excellent science conducted on Mississippi State University's campus, and the hardworking professors and graduate students who make it possible," Demarais said. "The Quality Deer Management Association stated afterwards that these awards show that the MSU Deer Lab is conducting some of the best research in the nation. I have to agree with that claim."
The meeting annually draws 300-400 biologists and scientists, who present the latest findings and host discussions on current topics in deer ecology and management. While historically the conference only included states from the Southeastern U.S., more recently it has drawn participants from as far away as the Pacific Northwest.
"This meeting has become the country's premier event dealing with deer ecology and management," Demarais said.
Mississippi State students competed against a group of 18 graduate students from other universities.
"Students are graded on the basis of the importance of the topic, the uniqueness of the research, the quality of the work and the presenter's public speaking skills. All three of the students who took top prizes are highly motivated, have a complete grasp of their research and use their creativity to make their presentations stand out from the pack," Demarais said.
Dan Morina, a graduate student from Raleigh, North Carolina, took first place for his research presentation on mating preferences among white-tailed deer. Morina conducted a study to see whether female deer are selective about their mates, and if so, which characteristics are important factors.
The second place winner, Jordan Youngmann of Hoosick Falls, New York, studies the genetic profile of deer to determine their origin. In the 1900s, deer populations were at an all-time low in the Southeast. In a successful wildlife restoration effort, deer were imported from all over the country and released throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. The study will determine if non-native deer are genetically distinguished from native individuals.
Jacob Dykes of Amory took third place for his research. Dykes studies how plant nutrients influence diet selection in white-tailed deer. His research examines whether deer discriminate between forages based on their nutrient concentrations. It also looked at whether they selected or avoided certain nutrients in the foods.
The MSU Deer Lab is a unit of the university's Forest and Wildlife Research Center and Extension Center. For more, visit msudeerlab.com.