Short- and long-term effects of winter and spring weather on growth and survival of red deer in Norway
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Populations of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Norway have increased continuously over the last decades. We tested the possible effects of climate and increase in population size on the survival rates and body condition of individuals in one of the northernmost populations of red deer in Europe. Based on 678 individuals of known age marked between 1977 and 1995, we estimated annual survival rates, the probabilities of being harvested and the recapture probability according to sex, age, year, winter and spring weather, population size, and, body weight and body condition, using capture-mark-recapture models. Winter harshness negatively influenced the body weight of yearlings and the survival of calves of both sexes. Spring weather influenced the survival of males in all age classes. A negative trend during the study period was detected in body weight and condition of calves and yearlings, but not in any age- or sex- specific survival rates. No significant gender differences in mean survival were shown in any age class. Moreover, there was little (male) or no (female) detectable between-year variation in survival rates for yearlings and adults. Winter weather acts as a limiting factor on population growth through a short-term effect on first-year survival and a long-term effect on body weight. We discuss the surprising low sex differences in natural survival rates and the differential effects of winter harshness on body weight, body condition and survival in relation to life history characteristics of red deer.
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