This dissertation analyzes the use of genetic and geographic assignment to address two challenges affecting the population management of white-tailed deer in West Virginia: poaching and chronic wasting disease.
In this dissertation, the author discusses the current population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in West Virginia (WV) and related uncertainties to the socio-economic benefits: poaching and chronic wasting disease (CWD). Using a sample of 513 CWD-negative female white-tailed deer were sampled in Hampshire County, WV, and 146 WWD-positive male and female white-tailed deer. Female deer, both CWD-positive and negative, were also selected to determine any changes associated with position of the prion precursor gene (PRNP) polymorphisms and disease status as well as temporal changes before disease detection within a high density area of CWD detections (>1/sq. km), since previous studies have indicated that nucleotide polymorphisms in the 285th and 286th position of the PRNP have been associated with the delay of clinical disease symptoms. Comparisons between observed and expected allele frequencies at PRNP 286 following CWD detection found a significant decrease in allele frequency in both high-density sampling as well as the Hampshire County sampling. To determine the dispersal distance and patterns of 40 white-tailed deer that tested positive for CWD, genotype profiles were generated using 16 microsatellite loci, and the control region of the mitochondria (D-loop) for each deer were sequenced. Using the same microsatellite and mitochondrial control region, broad-scale genetic differentiation of white-tailed deer was detected across 22 WV counties. Although a county-by-county genetic assignment could not be determined, the results of this study indicated that geographic assignment can be used to assign purportedly poached individuals to regions within West Virginia. Although exposure to the environment, such as changing temperatures and UV radiation, can reduce the quantity and quality of DNA evidence suitable for analysis, DNA quantities were large enough to be amplified through qPCR. Results also provided a suite of management tools for aiding with current problems facing a valuable resource in West Virginia.