, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 185-190
Date: 15 May 2007

Landscape structure affects food quality of sika deer (Cervus nippon) evidenced by fecal nitrogen levels

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Abstract

Evaluating the quality of wildlife habitat is essential for understanding and predicting population dynamics in heterogeneous environments. We used fecal nitrogen levels as an indicator of habitat quality of sika deer (Cervus nippon) and explored important landscape elements influencing nitrogen levels, taking deer density into account. We established 92 plots differing in deer density and landscape structure on the Boso Peninsula, central Japan, and collected fecal samples along a 1-km transect at each plot. The regression models involving two independent variables, i.e., deer density and the length of forest edge within an area of 100 or 200 m from the transect, were selected based on the Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC). Levels of fecal nitrogen were positively correlated with the length of the forest edge and negatively correlated with population density of deer. The area of 100 or 200 m from the transect most likely reflected the behavioral scale of the deer. Coverage of palatable understory vegetation increased with proximity to forest edge and decreased with deer density. Variability in the level of fecal nitrogen could thus be explained by food availability in the landscape. These results suggest that landscape alterations increase the carrying capacity of sika deer and thereby increase impacts upon the ecosystem.