NASA's helping track deer birth rates from space

NASA is using its satellites to help researchers track deer births from space. This is made possible by tracking vegetation across the nation using satellite imagery. Mule deer, the variety cited by NASA, are in need of ample amounts of vegetation during the late stages of pregnancy and for a while after giving birth — knowing that, and by using NASA's satellite data, researchers have been able to figure out when fawning season will start.

Not surprisingly, the levels of vegetation predict fawning season, as the rate of deer births reach their highest point right before the vegetation is at its most supple point. Knowing the deer birth rate every year is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is being an important factor in the number of hunting licenses that are granted every year.

The researchers are using NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on a pair of satellites in conjunction with the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a tool that keeps tabs on how green any particular patch of land is. Zeroing in on the deer habitats with this tool gives researchers information about the start of the season and when the vegetation will peak, making it possible to accurately estimate fawning season.

Said Utah State University's David Stoner, the study's lead author:

We had never tracked the deer population this way, and we had never been able to predict it with such precision. We can estimate the start and peak of the season using satellite imagery, and then we can map and predict when the deer are giving birth in any given region.