The impacts of urbanization on endangered florida key deer



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Texas A&M University


Conservation of native wildlife is becoming increasingly difficult due to continued human population growth and expansion. As the human population continues to increase, so does the rate of consumption of our natural resources. As competition for resources between man and wildlife continues, it is important to understand the effects of urbanization on species. Endangered Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) are endemic to the Florida Keys archipelago stretching southwest off the southern tip of peninsular Florida. Key deer range is restricted to the Lower Florida Keys with approximately 60% residing on Big Pine Key and 15% residing on No Name Key which have undergone rapid human population growth and development over the past 30 years. Urban development and its associated risk factors (i.e., habitat loss and fragmentation, deer domestication, and deer??vehicle collisions) have been cited as the greatest threat to the Key deer population. For my dissertation research, I evaluated the impacts of 30 years of development on the Key deer population. My results suggest that increased habitat fragmentation and increased road traffic have created areas of varying habitat quality and mortality risk and have resulted in a source-sink system for Key deer on Big Pine Key. In my examination of Key deer metapopulation dynamics, I found a low probability of deer colonizing 2 target outer islands (Sugarloaf and Cudjoe) through dispersal alone in the next 20 years. Further, I examined the impacts of urbanization on changes in Key deer population dynamics, behavior, and morphology. Collectively, my results suggest that over the past 30 years Key deer have become more urbanized, which in turn has influenced Key deer behavior and population viability. Behavioral adaptations due to deer plasticity appear to have provided Key deer with mechanisms to persist in a changing environment due to urbanization. However, the future ability of Key deer to persist in a continuously urbanizing environment cannot be predicted. At some threshold, urban development would become unsustainable, and, unlike other forms of habitat change or environmental disturbances, urban development is in most cases irreversible, requiring careful planning in habitat conservation strategies.