Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 8-10-2019


One-year Embargo

Submission Type


Degree Name



Environmental Science and Management (ESM)


Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Committee Chair

Jan E. Janecka

Committee Member

Brady Porter

Committee Member

Michael Jensen-Seaman


White-Tailed Deer, Genetic Diversity, Conservation Genetics, Wildlife Forensics


During the 20thcentury, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) became scarce, prompting conservation efforts by hunters and wildlife managers with the goal to recover this species. Various strategies were implemented including reintroductions from areas that still had large deer populations, developing bag limits, seasonal restrictions, and habitat management. These efforts were highly successful across the United States.

Today, white-tailed deer are one of the most abundant and widely-distributed large-bodied mammals in North America. However, there are several important management concerns. In numerous states, including Pennsylvania, CWD negatively impacts deer populations and has become a major health concern. When studying factors of disease spread, population genetics has been proven useful when observing patterns of gene flow to determine the movement of infectious individuals. In addition, poaching of deer is a recurrent problem in many states and reduces the ability to effectively manage this species.

Illegal harvest of wildlife can directly impact a populations abundance, distribution, sex ratios, remove trophy deer, and alter age structure. The severity of wildlife crime is difficult to accurately assess as many offenses go undetected. Poaching often occurs in remote and isolated areas that have limited monitoring. The advancement of forensic science practices is necessary in combating these illegal activities given their high estimated frequency and its inherent threat to species. Forensic science methods applicable to the enforcement of wildlife legislation largely focus on the use of DNA barcoding and fingerprinting to identify species and individuals among samples collected at a crime scene

Microsatellite loci have been proven useful for the identification of individuals, determination of kinship, assignment of migrants to source populations, estimation of gene flow between populations, and examination of geographic variation among a species. The purpose of this thesis was to evaluate the genetic variation within the white-tailed deer populations in southwestern Pennsylvania using seven microsatellite loci and use this information to develop a molecular panel for forensics applications. A total of 82 road-killed and legally harvested white-tailed deer were sampled throughout the region. The allele frequencies, observed heterozygosity, expected heterozygosity, and probability of identity were calculated for each microsatellite loci. All loci were found to be highly variable and effective for studying population parameters in southwestern Pennsylvania deer and estimating dispersal patterns among wildlife management units that will impact the spread of CWD. Seven loci were selected for a forensic microsatellite that yielded an overall probability of identity of less than 1 in a billion. This was successfully applied to match 6 blind control samples and subsequently 2 poaching cases analyzed for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. This panel will likely be effective for population genetic studies and forensic analysis in white-tailed deer throughout the state of Pennsylvania.



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