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Changes During the Holocene in the Size of White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from Central Illinois

  • James R. Purdue (a1)


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from central Illinois varied in size during the Holocene. The record, which extends back to 8450 yr B.P., indicates small deer through the mid-Holocene until 3650 yr B.P., after which size increases. Although influences of winter climate, seasonality, anthropogenic effects, and other ecological factors should not be discounted, an intriguing possible cause of the deer size shifts is insolation-driven summer climate and its influence on food resources. In the Holocene, small deer size is correlated with high summer insolation and with low winter insolation. Climatic models indicate that in spite of changes in insolation, Holocene winters did not vary greatly through time, especially in contrast to summers, which were dynamic. Physiological constraints peculiar to O. virginianus make critical the quality of summer forage for determining final adult size. Summer temperature averaged 2°C warmer than present during the middle Holocene, which increased evaporation and probably reduced the period of availability of high-quality forage low in fiber and high in protein. Consequently, less fuel for growth was consumed by mid-Holocene deer and only small body size was achieved. Other possible causes (e.g., Bergmann's rule, seasonality) of clinal variation are considered with reference to central Illinois deer, but at present the most parsimonious explanation appears to be the summer insolation hypothesis.



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