, Volume 120, Issue 2, pp 218-224

The relationship between habitat choice and lifetime reproductive success in female red deer

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In non-territorial species, individuals can move freely and should be distributed in an ideal free manner between habitats and areas with respect to resources that influence lifetime reproductive success (LRS). Consequently, no relationship between diet quality and LRS should be expected. However, there have been no attempts to test this prediction. The present paper investigates the relationship between forage habitat use and LRS in red deer (Cervus elaphus) hinds within three neighbouring areas on the Isle of Rum which differed in their amounts of high-quality-forage habitat. Within areas, hinds move widely and have access to the same resources. We found no correlation between LRS of individual hinds and their use of high-quality-forage habitat (i.e. short Agrostis/Festuca grassland). Our analysis suggests that high hind densities on short Agrostis/Festuca grassland offset any advantages of increased access to preferred forage. These results support the hypothesis that red deer hinds are distributed in an ideal free manner with respect to the use of high-quality-forage habitat. However, hinds rarely leave areas where they are born, and the analysis suggests that constraints in changing areas hindered an ideal free distribution on a larger spatial scale. Consequently, mean LRS was not the same within the three investigated areas: one area, with a low amount of short Agrostis/Festuca grassland and a low hind density, contributed more male offspring (and more total offspring) per hind to the population than the other two areas.

Received: 11 September 1998 / Accepted: 15 March 1999