Effects of density, climate, and supplementary forage on body mass and pregnancy rates of female red deer in Spain
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The influence of short- and long-term (cohort) effects of climate and density on the life-histories of ungulates in temperate regions may vary with latitude, habitat, and management practices, but the life-histories of ungulates in the Mediterranean region are less well known. This study examined the short- and long-term effects of rainfall and absolute density on hinds in two of the southernmost populations of red deer (Cervus elaphus hispanicus) in Europe. One population received supplementary forage. Unlike more northerly latitudes, where red deer hinds lose body mass in winter as a result of adverse weather, in the Spanish populations, hinds did not lose body mass. Hinds in the population that received supplementary forage were heavier and more likely to become pregnant than were the hinds in the unsupplemented population. The likelihood of pregnancy occurring was strongly influenced by hind body mass; the proportion of yearlings that became pregnant was consequently lower in the unsupplemented population than in the population that received supplementary forage. Cohort effects on hind body mass (negative for density and positive for rainfall at birth) and on the probability of pregnancy (negative for density at birth) were apparent only in the unsupplemented population, which implies that supplemental feeding may partially compensate for negative density-dependent factors during early growth, and that supplemented deer hinds may experience reduced selection pressures. These results reflect the particular seasonal variation in the abundance and quality of food in Mediterranean habitats. The delayed effects of climate and density at birth on adult hind body mass and the prevalence of pregnancy probably affects population dynamics and constitutes a mechanism by which cohort effects affect the population dynamics in Iberian red deer. The management of Iberian red deer populations should take into account cohort effects and supplemental feeding practices, which can buffer density- and climate-dependent effects and reduce natural selection pressures.
KeywordsClimate Cohort effects Density Management Supplemental feeding
We are very grateful to the gamekeepers and OAPN staff for their help with the fieldwork. This study was supported by grants from Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (JCCM) (project PAI07-0062-6611), by project TB-STEP 212414 and by the agreement between Yolanda Fierro and UCLM. Pablo Rodriguez-Hidalgo received financial support through an agreement between Fundación PRASA and Universidad de Córdoba. The research protocol complied with Spanish laws.
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