European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 939–948 | Cite as

Effects of human disturbance on the diet composition of wild red deer (Cervus elaphus)

  • Sevvandi Jayakody
  • Angela M. Sibbald
  • Robert W. Mayes
  • Russell J. Hooper
  • Iain J. Gordon
  • Xavier Lambin
Original Paper


Disturbance from human recreational activities may affect the nutrition of free-ranging herbivores due to trade-offs between feeding in preferred habitats and perceived predation risk. To test this hypothesis, we estimated diet composition for red deer in the Scottish highlands in spring, when recreational activity tends to be high, and in winter when it is lower. We analysed faecal samples from three habitat types (grassland, heather moorland and woodland) collected at sites close to a busy track (disturbed) and at a distance from it (less disturbed). The diet consisted of 39% grasses, sedges, herbs and rushes (GSHR) and 58% Calluna vulgaris and Erica spp. (heather) in spring, compared with 14% grasses and 77% heather in winter, with small quantities of Vaccinium spp. (berry) and Pinus sylvestris (tree) in both seasons. In spring, faeces from disturbed grass and woodland sites indicated a diet with less GSHR and more heather and tree than faeces from less-disturbed sites, which could be due to an increased need for vigilance in exposed grassland and the need to seek cover. In contrast, faeces from all disturbed sites in winter indicated a diet with more GSHR and less heather than faeces from less-disturbed sites. This could be due to a seasonal decline in recreation and increase in hunting activity reversing the disturbance levels at the different sites, since hunting is not normally carried out in areas used by the public for recreation. We conclude that there may be nutritional benefits to deer of reducing disturbance near open grassland.


Diet composition Faecal sampling Habitat Human disturbance Plant wax markers Red deer 



This research was funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Association (UK) and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (now the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate). The authors wish to thank the staff of Balmoral and Invercauld Estates for permission to collect faecal and forage samples and Roslyn Anderson for help with fieldwork. Thanks are also due to David Elston of Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland for expert statistical advice and to Glenn Iason for helpful comments on an early version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sevvandi Jayakody
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • Angela M. Sibbald
    • 1
  • Robert W. Mayes
    • 1
  • Russell J. Hooper
    • 1
  • Iain J. Gordon
    • 2
    • 5
  • Xavier Lambin
    • 3
  1. 1.Macaulay Land Use Research InstituteAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Sustainable Ecosystems, CSIRO—Davies LaboratoryTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biological ScienceUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  4. 4.Faculty of Livestock, Fisheries and NutritionWayamba University of Sri LankaMakanduraSri Lanka
  5. 5.The James Hutton InstituteDundeeUK

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