, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 837–847 | Cite as

Long-term density-dependent changes in habitat selection in red deer (Cervus elaphus)

  • F. J. Pérez-BarberíaEmail author
  • R. J. Hooper
  • I. J. Gordon
Population ecology - Original research


Understanding how habitat selection changes with population density is a key concept in population regulation, community composition and managing impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. At low density, it is expected that individuals select habitats in terms of their preference, but as population density increases, the availability of resources per individual declines on preferred habitats, leading to competition which forces some individuals to exploit less preferred habitats. Using spatial information of Scottish red deer (Cervus elaphus) winter counts, carried out in 110 areas across Scotland between 1961 and 2004 (a total of 1,206,495 deer observations), we showed how winter habitat niche breadth in red deer has widened with increasing population density. Heather moorland and montane habitats were most and least preferred for deer, respectively. Increasing density favoured the selection of grassland, to the detriment of the selection of heather moorland. The selection of heather and grassland decreased when temperature increased, while the selection of montane and peatland habitats increased. These findings are important for understanding how habitat use, density and population are likely to be affected by weather, and allow us to predict habitat impacts by large mammal herbivory and climate.


Habitat use Niche breadth Population dynamics Spatial analysis 



To the memory of our colleague Dr. Simon Thirgood, who died in his beloved Africa when working on conservation projects. María Antón digitised the dataset and was funded by the European Commission Leonardo da Vinci Programme. Thanks to: Alessandro Gimona, Janine B Illian, Colin Beale, and Jack Lennon for comments on the analysis; Douglas Morris, Glenn Iason, Alison Hester, Pete Goddard, Scot Ramsay and Burt Kotler for comments on the manuscript; Deepayan Sarkar and Adrian Baddeley for advice on the programming code; and The Deer Commission for Scotland and the Highland Council Archive for access to the dataset. The work was funded by the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate (RERAD).

Supplementary material

442_2013_2686_MOESM1_ESM.docx (33 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 33 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. J. Pérez-Barbería
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. J. Hooper
    • 1
  • I. J. Gordon
    • 1
  1. 1.The James Hutton InstituteAberdeenScotland, UK

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