Feeding activity and dietary composition of roe deer at the southern edge of their range
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We studied feeding activity and dietary components of hand-reared European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) in Israel. Our ultimate goal was to assess habitat suitability for future reintroduction of the species, which has been locally extinct for nearly a century. Activity patterns, diet composition, and body mass of four does were monitored in two (fenced) typical east Mediterranean habitats: mature forest and scrubland recovering from fire. Food supplements were provided between trials. Throughout the year, the deer exhibited diurnal and nocturnal activity, mostly at dawn and dusk. Diet composition varied considerably between seasons and habitats, demonstrating the opportunistic flexibility of the deer. In both habitats, the deer fed on over 85% of the plant species but preferred a particular plant species or parts. In summer and early autumn, fruits and seeds became the dominant portion of their diet. In our semi-natural experimental setup, deer maintained body mass through the winter and spring. Weight loss occurred as the dry season advanced, but the animals rapidly regained mass when annuals and grasses became available following the first rains. In the east Mediterranean habitats, water availability seems more problematic for deer survival than food availability.