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DNA research transforms deer pellets into ‘libraries’

To researcher Todd Brinkman, the fecal pellet of a Sitka black-tailed deer is a "library" of information. (Todd Brinkman photo)

To researcher Todd Brinkman, the fecal pellet of a Sitka black-tailed deer is a “library” of information.


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Estimating wildlife populations in Southeast Alaska has always been a difficult problem for biologists. The Tongass Forest both sustains and conceals large numbers of Sitka black-tailed deer. For decades, scientists have relied on fecal pellet studies to gauge populations, but deer scat is not a fingerprint. There’s no way of accurately determining how many individual deer produce a given number of pellets – until now.

Dr. Todd Brinkman works at the Institute of Arctic Biology in Fairbanks.

Dr. Todd Brinkman works at the Institute of Arctic Biology in Fairbanks.

Todd Brinkman is a researcher with the Institute of Arctic Biology in Fairbanks. Jon Martin is an assistant professor of Biology at the University of Alaska Southeast. The two scientists make the case that DNA is revolutionizing the study of Sitka black-tailed deer.

Besides his ground-breaking DNA studies on deer populations, Brinkman is also interested in the relationship between deer, the environment, and people. He calls this relationship a “hunting system,” and believes it could play a larger role in forest management in the future.

Read an article by Todd Brinkman in Fairchase, his scientific writing on estimating deer populations, and his work on hunting systems.

Jon Martin, assistan professor of Biology at UAS Sitka, with an impressive black-tailed buck last December. (Jon Martin photo)

Jon Martin, assistan professor of Biology at UAS Sitka, with an impressive black-tailed buck last December. (Jon Martin photo)


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