Effects of demography and urbanization on stress and body condition in urban white-tailed deer

  • Emily J. PotratzEmail author
  • Joel S. Brown
  • Travis Gallo
  • Chris Anchor
  • Rachel M. Santymire


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are becoming increasingly common in urban environments. How they respond to potential changes (i.e. increased human interactions, traffic, overabundance) can influence herd health. We aimed to develop a technique that quantifies stress in deer using hair cortisol concentrations (HCC). Our objectives were to test for: 1) a relationship between HCC and deer body condition score (BCS); 2) effects of sex, age, and location on HCC; and 3) effects of herd density and urbanization on HCC. Using the HCC of 59 culled deer from 8 sites (Cook County, IL USA), of which 7 sites were part of yearly herd management to maintain population sizes (site was managed) and 1 site was not (un-managed), we found deer with the poorest BCS had the highest HCC (P < 0.01). We then compared HCC from 342 deer, from 24 managed sites in 4 counties (IL, USA), to test for the effects of biological and environmental factors. Results showed sex and age did not influence HCC (sex; P = 0.13, age; P = 0.18), while site location did (P < 0.01). We then modeled HCC from the 24 managed sites as a function of two site variables that could influence HCC: herd density (deer/km2) and urbanization (presence of roads, buildings, vegetation), and found neither had a significant effect. In conclusion, HCC is correlated to BCS and is a non-invasive metric of health. Herd density, if left unmanaged (Objective 1), is a more important driver of individual health than degree of urbanization.


Population density Chicago Hair cortisol concentration Urban wildlife management Ungulate 



We thank Patrick Wolff and Matthew Mulligan for assistance with coordination of the sample collection and lab work. We are grateful to the forest preserve districts of Cook, DuPage, Lake, and McHenry counties for collecting samples. Funding was provided by The Davee Foundation.

Supplementary material

11252_2019_856_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (625 kb)
Online Resource 1 (PDF 625 kb)
11252_2019_856_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (80 kb)
Online Resource 2 (PDF 79 kb)


  1. 2015 Illinois Crash Facts and Statistics (2015) Office of Planning and Programming, Bureau of Data Collection, Illinois Department of TransportationGoogle Scholar
  2. Accorsi PA, Carloni E, Valsecchi P, Viggiani R, Gamberoni M, Tamanini C, Seren E (2008) Cortisol determination in hair and faeces from domestic cats and dogs. Gen Comp Endocrinol 155:398–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashley NT, Barboza PS, Macbeth BJ, Janz DM, Cattet MRL, Booth RK, Wasser SK (2011) Glucocorticosteroid concentrations in feces and hair of captive caribou and reindeer following adrenocorticotropic hormone challenge. Gen Comp Endocrinol 172:382–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker MR, Gobush KS, Vynne CH (2013) Review of factors influencing stress hormones in fish and wildlife. J Nat Conserv 21:309–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bates D, Maechler M, Bolker B, Walker S (2014) lme4: linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. R Package Version 1:1–23Google Scholar
  6. Bechshøft T, Sonne C, Dietz R, Born EW, Novak MA, Henchey E, Meyer JS (2011) Cortisol levels in hair of East Greenland polar bears. Sci Total Environ 409:831–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Belant JL, Seamans TW, Paetkau D (2007) Genetic tagging free-ranging white-tailed deer using hair snares. Ohio J Sci 107:50Google Scholar
  8. Bennett A, Hayssen V (2010) Measuring cortisol in hair and saliva from dogs: coat color and pigment differences. Domest Anim Endocrinol 39:171–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bijlsma R, Loeschcke V (2005) Environmental stress, adaption and evolution: an overview. J Evol Biol 18:744–749CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boonstra R (2004) Coping with changing northern environments: the role of the stress axis in birds and mammals. Integr Comp Biol 44:95–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boonstra R, Singleton GR (1993) Population declines in the snowshoe hare and the role of stress. Gen Comp Endocrinol 91:126–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boonstra R, Hik D, Singleton GR, Tinnikov A (1998) The impact of predator-induced stress on the snowshoe hare cycle. Ecol Monogr 68:371–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bryan HM, Darimont CT, Paquet PC, Wynne-Edwards KE, Smits JEG, Moreira N (2013) Stress and reproductive hormones in grizzly bears reflect nutritional benefits and social consequences of a salmon foraging niche. PLoS One 8:e80537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bryan HM, Darimont CT, Paquet PC, Wynne-Edwards KE, Smits JEG (2014) Stress and reproductive hormones reflect inter-specific social and nutritional conditions mediated by resource availability in a bear-salmon system. Conserv Physiol 2:cou010–cou010Google Scholar
  15. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2003) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach. Springer Science & Business MediaGoogle Scholar
  16. Carlitz EHD, Kirschbaum C, Stalder T, van Schaik CP (2014) Hair as a long-term retrospective cortisol calendar in orang-utans (Pongo spp.): new perspectives for stress monitoring in captive management and conservation. Gen Comp Endocrinol 195:151–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Caslini C, Comin A, Peric T, Prandi A, Pedrotti L, Silvana M (2016) Use of hair cortisol analysis for comparing population status in wild red deer (Cervus elaphus) living in areas with different characteristics. Eur J Wildl Res 62:713–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cattet M, Macbeth BJ, Janz DM, Zedrosser A, Swenson JE, Dumond M, Strenhouse GB (2014) Quantifying long-term stress in brown bears with the hair cortisol concentration: a biomarker that may be confounded by rapid changes in response to capture and handling. Conserv Physiol 2:cou026–cou026Google Scholar
  19. Charbonnel N, Chaval Y, Berthier K, Deter J, Morand S, Palme R, Cosson J (2008) Stress and demographic decline: a potential effect mediated by impairment of reproduction and immune function in cyclic vole populations. Physiol Biochem Zool 81:63–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chatterjee A, Chatterjee R (2009) How stress affects female reproduction: an overview. Biomed Res 20:79–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) (2016) High- resolution land cover, Cook County, 2010. CMAP, Chicago Available from Accessed 23 May 2018
  22. Côté SD, Rooney TP, Tremblay JP, Dussault C, Waller D (2004) Ecological impacts of deer overabundance. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:113–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Creel S, Dantzer B, Goymann W, Rubenstein DR (2013) The ecology of stress: effects of the social environment. Funct Ecol 27:66–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Crespi EJ, Williams TD, Jessop TS, Delehanty B (2013) Life history and the ecology of stress: how do glucocorticoid hormones influence life-history variation in animals? Funct. Ecol 27:93–106Google Scholar
  25. Dantzer B, Newman AEM, Boonstra R, Palme R, Boutin S, Humphries MM, McAdam AG (2013) Density triggers maternal hormones that increase adaptive offspring growth in a wild mammal. Science 340:1215–1217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Davenport MD, Tiefenbacher S, Lutz CK, Novak MA, Meyer JS (2006) Analysis of endogenous cortisol concentrations in the hair of rhesus macaques. Gen Comp Endocrinol 147:255–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. DeNicola AJ (2000) Managing White-tailed deer in suburban environments: a technical guide. Cornell Cooperative Extension, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  28. Ditchkoff SS, Saalfeld ST, Gibson CJ (2006) Animal behavior in urban ecosystems: modifications due to human-induced stress. Urban Ecosyst 9:5–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Etter DR, Hollis KM, Deelen TRV, Ludwig DR, Chelsvig JE (2002) Survival and movements of white-tailed deer in suburban Chicago, Illinois. J Wildl Manag 66:500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ezenwa VO, Jolles AE, O’Brien MP (2009) A reliable body condition scoring technique for estimating condition in African buffalo. Afr J Ecol 47:476–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fanson KV, Fanson BG, Brown JS (2011) Using path analysis to explore vigilance behavior in the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis). J Mammal 92:78–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fourie N, Bernstein R (2011) Hair cortisol levels track phylogenetic and age related differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity in non-human primates. Gen Comp Endocrinol 174:150–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Francis CD, Barber JR (2013) A framework for understanding noise impacts on wildlife: an urgent conservation priority. Front Ecol Environ 11:305–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. George SC, Smith TE, Mac Cana PS, Coleman R, Montgomery WI (2014) Physiological stress in the Eurasian badger (Meles meles): effects of host, disease and environment. Gen Comp Endocrinol 200:54–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gerhart KL, White RG, Cameron RD, Russell DE (1996) Estimating fat content of caribou from body condition scores. J Wildl Manag 60:713CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gleixner A, Meyer HH (1997) Detection of estradiol and testosterone in hair of cattle by HPL/EIA. Fresenius J Anal Chem 357:1198–1201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gow R, Thomson S, Rieder M, Van Uum S, Koren G (2010) An assessment of cortisol analysis in hair and its clinical applications. Forensic Sci Int 196:32–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Goyman W (2012) On the use of non-invasive hormone research in uncontrolled, natural environments: the problem with sex, diet, metabolic rate and the individual. Methods Ecol Evol 3:757–765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Harkey MR (1993) Anatomy and physiology of hair. Forensic Sci Int 63:9–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Henderson G (1993) Mechanisms of drug incorporation into hair. Forensic Sci Int 63:19–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ito N (2005) Human hair follicles display a functional equivalent of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and synthesize cortisol. FASEB J 19:1332–1334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kilpatrick HJ, Labonte AM, Barclay JS (2011) Effects of landscape and land-ownership patterns on deer movements in a suburban community. Wildl Soc Bull 35:227–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kilpatrick HJ, Labonte AM, Stafford KC (2014) The relationship between deer density, tick abundance, and human cases of Lyme disease in a residential community. J Med Entomol 51:777–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kitaysky AS, Wingfield JC, Piatt JF (1999) Dynamics of food availability, body condition and physiological stress response in breeding black-legged kittiwakes. Funct Ecol 13:577–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kitaysky AS, Piatt JF, Wingfield JC (2007) Stress hormones link food availability and population processes in seabirds. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 352:245–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Koren L, Mokady O, Karaskov T, Klein J, Koren G, Geffen E (2002) A novel method using hair for determining hormonal levels in wildlife. Anim Behav 63:403–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Landry DW (2016) Impacts of recreational aviation on wildlife: the physiological stress response in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and associated user perceptions. University of Montana, DissertationGoogle Scholar
  48. Liker A, Papp Z, Bókony V, Lendvai A (2008) Lean birds in the city: body size and condition of house sparrows along the urbanization gradient. J Anim Ecol 77:789–795CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Liu X, Chen F, Guo D, Song X, Zhong Y (1988) Early pregnancy diagnosis in dairy cows based on hair progesterone analysis. Int J Anim Sci 3:123–127Google Scholar
  50. Lochmiller RL (1996) Immunocompetence and animal population regulation. Oikos 76:594–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Loeding E, Thomas J, Bernier D, Santymire R (2011) Using fecal hormonal and behavioral analyses to evaluate the introduction of two sable antelope at Lincoln Park zoo. J Appl Anim Welf Sci 14:220–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lyons J, Mastromonaco G, Edwards DB, Schulte-Hostedde AI (2017) Fat and happy in the city: eastern chipmunks in urban environments. Behav Ecol 28:1464–1471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Macbeth BJ, Cattet MRL, Stenhouse GB, Gibeau ML, Janz DM (2010) Hair cortisol concentration as a noninvasive measure of long-term stress in free-ranging grizzly bears (Ursus arctos): considerations with implications for other wildlife. Can J Zool 88:935–949CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Macbeth BJ, Cattet MR, Obbard ME, Middel K, Janz DM (2012) Evaluation of hair cortisol concentration as a biomarker of long-term stress in free-ranging polar bears. Wildl Soc Bull 36:747–758CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. McCullough DR, Jennings KW, Gates NB, Elliott BG, DiDonato JE (1997) Overabundant deer populations in California. Wildlife Soc B 25:478Google Scholar
  56. McEwen BS (1998) Stress, adaptation, and disease: allostasis and allostatic load. Ann N Y Acad Sci 840:33–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. McEwen BS, Wingfield JC (2003) The concept of allostasis in biology and biomedicine. Horm Behav 43:2–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Meyer JS, Novak MA (2012) Minireview: hair cortisol: a novel biomarker of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical activity. Endocrinol. 153:4120–4127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Moberg GP (2000) The biology of animal stress: basic principles and implications for animal welfare. CABIGoogle Scholar
  60. Monfort S (2003) Non-invasive endocrine measures of reproduction and stress in wild populations. Conserv Biol:147–165Google Scholar
  61. Novais A, Monteiro S, Roque S, Correia-Neves M, Sousa N (2017) How age, sex and genotype shape the stress response. Neurobiology of Stress 6:44–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Novikov E, Moshkin M (1998) Sexual maturation, adrenocortical function and population density of red-backed vole, Clethrionomys rutilus (pall.). Mammalia 62:529–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Piccolo BP, Hollis KM, Warner RE, Van Deelen TR, Etter DR, Anchor C (2000) Variation of white-tailed deer home ranges in fragmented urban habitats around Chicago, Illinois. The Ninth Wildlife Damage Management Conference Proceedings. LincolnGoogle Scholar
  64. Pride RE (2005) High faecal glucocorticoid levels predict mortality in ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Biol Lett 1:60–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. R Team (2015) R: A language and environment for statistical computingGoogle Scholar
  66. Reeder DM, Kramer KM (2005) Stress in free-ranging mammals: integrating physiology, ecology, and natural history. J Mammal 86:225–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rivier C, Rivest S (1991) Effect of stress on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis: peripheral and central mechanisms. Biol Reprod 45:523–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Romero LM, Wikelski M (2001) Corticosterone levels predict survival probabilities of Galapagos marine iguanas during El Nino events. Proc Natl Acad Sci 98:7366–7370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rooney TP, Waller DM (2003) Direct and indirect effects of white-tailed deer in forest ecosystems. For Ecol Manag 181:165–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Russell E, Koren G, Rieder M, Van Uum S (2012) Hair cortisol as a biological marker of chronic stress: current status, future directions and unanswered questions. Psychoneuroendocrinology 37:589–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sapolsky RM, Romero LM, Munck AU (2000) How do glucocorticoids influence stress responses? Integrating permissive, suppressive, stimulatory, and preparative actions 1. Endocr Rev 21:55–89Google Scholar
  72. Schell CJ, Young JK, Lonsdorf EV, Mateo JM, Santymire RM (2017) Investigation of techniques to measure cortisol and testosterone concentrations in coyote hair. Zoo Biol 36:220–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Severinghaus C (1956) Life and times of the white-tailed deer. In: Taylor W.P. (ed) Deer of North America. Harrisburg Pa, pp 57-186Google Scholar
  74. Shelton P, McDonald P (2017) Illinois chronic wasting disease: 2016–2017 surveillance and management report. Illinois Department of Natural ResourcesGoogle Scholar
  75. Sheriff MJ, Dantzer B, Delehanty B, Palme R, Boonstra R (2011) Measuring stress in wildlife: techniques for quantifying glucocorticoids. Oecologia 166:869–887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Shipley B (2016) Cause and correlation in biology: a User’s guide to path analysis, Structural Equations and Causal Inference with R. Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  77. Shochat E (2004) Credit or debit? Resource input changes population dynamics of city-slicker birds. Oikos 106:622–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Shochat E, Lerman S, Fernández-Juricic E (2010) Birds in urban ecosystems: population dynamics, community structure, biodiversity, and conservation. Urban Ecosys Ecol:75–86Google Scholar
  79. Soulsbury CD, White PC (2016) Human–wildlife interactions in urban areas: a review of conflicts, benefits and opportunities. Wildl Res 42:541–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Storm DJ, Samuel MD, Rolley R, Beissel T, Richards BJ, Van Deelen TR (2014) Estimating ages of white-tailed deer: age and sex patterns of error using tooth wear-and-replacement and consistency of cementum annuli: evaluating white-tailed deer aging methods. Wildl Soc Bull 38:849–856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Swihart R, Picone P, DeNicola A, Cornicelli L (1995) Ecology of urban and suburban white-tailed deer. In: McAninch JB (ed) urban deer: a manageable resource? Pp 35–44Google Scholar
  82. Thieme D, Anielski P, Grosse J, Sachs H, Mueller RK (2003) Identification of anabolic steroids in serum, urine, sweat and hair: comparison of metabolic patterns. Anal Chim Acta 483:299–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. U.S. Census Bureau (2017) American community survey, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. USA. Accessed 08 March 2018
  84. Waller DM, Alverson WS (1997) The White-tailed deer: a keystone herbivore. Wildl Soc Bull 25:217–226Google Scholar
  85. Watkins B, Ullrey D, Witham J, Jones J (1990) Field evaluation of deuterium oxide for estimating body composition of white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus) fawns. J Zoo Wildlife Med 21:453–456Google Scholar
  86. Young K, Walker S, Lanthier C, Waddell W, Monfort S, Brown J (2004) Noninvasive monitoring of adrenocortical activity in carnivores by fecal glucocorticoid analyses. Gen Comp Endocrinol 137:148–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Zbyryt A, Bubnicki JW, Kuijper DP, Dehnhard M, Churski M, Schmidt K, Wong B (2017) Do wild ungulates experience higher stress with humans than with large carnivores? Behav Ecol 16:19–30Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Davee Center for Epidemiology and EndocrinologyChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology, Moffitt Cancer CenterTampaUSA
  4. 4.Urban Wildlife InstituteChicagoUSA
  5. 5.Forest Preserve District of Cook CountyElginUSA

Personalised recommendations