, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 27-36

Wolf predation and snow cover as mortality factors in the ungulate community of the Bialowieża National Park, Poland

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Summary

Wolf-ungulate interactions were studied in the pristine deciduous and mixed forests of the Bialowieża National Park in 1985–1989. The study period included two severe and two mild winters. The community of ungulates inhabiting Bialowieża National Park consisted of red deer Cervus elaphus, 55% of all ungulates; wild boar Sus scrofa, 42%; and roe deer Capreolus capreolus, moose Alces alces, and European bison Bison bonasus, about 1% each. The average size of red deer groups increased from 2.7 (SD 2.35) in spring and summer to 6.9 (SD 6.84) in autumn and winter. In winter the group size of red deer was positively correlated with the depth of snow cover and negatively correlated with the mean daily temperature. Average group size of wild boar did not change significantly between seasons; it was 6.8 (SD 5.16) in spring and summer and 5.7 (SD 4.67) in autumn and winter. Analysis of 144 wolf scats showed that wolves preyed selectively on red deer. In October–April, Cervidae (mostly red deer) constituted 91% of biomass consumed by wolves, while wild boar made up only 8%. In May–September deer formed 77% of prey biomass, and the share of wild boar increased to 22%. In all seasons of the year wolves selected juveniles from deer and boar populations: 61% of red deer and 94% of wild boar of determined age recovered from wolves' scats were young <1 year old. Analysis of 117 carcasses of ungulates found in Bialowieża National Park showed that predation was the predominant mortality factor for red deer (40 killed, 10 dead from causes other than predation) and roe deer (4 killed, none dead). Wild boar suffered most from severe winter conditions (8 killed, 56 dead). The percentage of ungulates that had died from undernutrition and starvation in the total mortality was proportional to the severity of winter.