Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Biology (M.S.)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Alexandra Locher

Academic Year



In urban areas, green spaces are used by humans and wildlife. The proximity between them can lead to both positive and negative interactions, which can make managing urban wildlife difficult. Managers are challenged due to conflicts between wildlife population sizes that can be naturally supported versus those that are socially tolerable. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) thrive in urban environments because their habitat requirements are met within green spaces and backyard vegetation. Matrilineal groups of urban white-tailed deer live within the same areas, at times forming high densities that can lead to the spread of diseases or environmental pests, including hemlock wooly adelgid and ticks. Understanding the relatedness between those matrilineal groups may assist managers in understanding their movement patterns and help identify management strategies. Technological advancements in genetics have allowed researchers to investigate wildlife population structure at a molecular level and use that information in population management. The objective of this study was to understand the genetic structure of an urban deer population to determine baseline population data on which to make management decisions. We investigated deer population genetics from fecal samples collected throughout Grand Haven, Michigan, and the surrounding residential areas. Using microsatellites in a mark-recapture study, we assessed genetic clustering, sex ratios and calculated a population estimate. Results revealed 5 genetic clusters, a 24:1 female to male sex ratio and a population density of approximately 15 deer/ km2 (range = 7.9 – 21.9 deer/km2 ). Mantel tests showed a positive correlation between distance and genetic diversity within our study area. Results may be used in future landscape genetics research to investigate potential features inhibiting or facilitating gene flow within urban areas.

Available for download on Saturday, May 11, 2024