European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 645–654 | Cite as

Habitat use at fine spatial scale: how does patch clustering criteria explain the use of meadows by red deer?

  • Annalisa BelluEmail author
  • Miguel N. Bugalho
  • Tiago Monteiro-Henriques
  • José C. Costa
  • Francisco C. Rego
Original Paper


Large mammalian herbivores are keystone species in different ecosystems. To mediate the effects of large mammalian herbivores on ecosystems, it is crucial to understand their habitat selection pattern. At finer scales, herbivore patch selection depends strongly on plant community traits and therefore its understanding is constrained by patch definition criteria. Our aim was to assess which criteria for patch definition best explained use of meadows by wild, free-ranging, red deer (Cervus elaphus) in a study area in Northeast Portugal. We used two clustering criteria types based on floristic composition and gross forage classes, respectively. For the floristic criteria, phytosociological approach was used to classify plant communities, and its objectivity evaluated with a mathematical clustering of the floristic relevés. Cover of dominant plant species was tested as a proxy for the phytosociological method. For the gross forage classes, the graminoids/forbs ratio and the percentage cover of legumes were used. For assessing deer relative use of meadows we used faecal accumulation rates. Patches clustered according to floristic classification better explained selection of patches by deer. Plant community classifications based on phytosociology, or proxies of this, used for characterizing meadow patches resulted useful to understand herbivore selection pattern at fine scales and thus potentially suitable to assist wildlife management decisions.


Patch definition Cervus elaphus Faecal accumulation rate Foraging habitat use Hay meadows 



Annalisa Bellu was financed by a PhD grant from Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (SRFH/BD/24134/2005), within the programme of National funds of the Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Ensino Superior (MCTES). The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a previous draft of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material, approximately 91.5 KB.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annalisa Bellu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Miguel N. Bugalho
    • 1
  • Tiago Monteiro-Henriques
    • 2
  • José C. Costa
    • 2
  • Francisco C. Rego
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Applied Ecology “Baeta Neves”, Instituto Superior AgronomiaTechnical University of Lisbon (TULisbon)LisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Centro de Botânica Aplicada à Agricultura, Instituto Superior AgronomiaTechnical University of Lisbon (TULisbon)LisbonPortugal

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