Temporal shifts in landscape connectivity for an ecosystem engineer, the roe deer, across a multiple-use landscape
Routine movements of large herbivores, often considered as ecosystem engineers, impact key ecological processes. Functional landscape connectivity for such species influences the spatial distribution of associated ecological services and disservices.
We studied how spatio-temporal variation in the risk-resource trade-off, generated by fluctuations in human activities and environmental conditions, influences the routine movements of roe deer across a heterogeneous landscape, generating shifts in functional connectivity at daily and seasonal time scales.
We used GPS locations of 172 adult roe deer and step selection functions to infer landscape connectivity. In particular, we assessed the influence of six habitat features on fine scale movements across four biological seasons and three daily periods, based on variations in the risk-resource trade-off.
The influence of habitat features on roe deer movements was strongly dependent on proximity to refuge habitat, i.e. woodlands. Roe deer confined their movements to safe habitats during daytime and during the hunting season, when human activity is high. However, they exploited exposed open habitats more freely during night-time. Consequently, we observed marked temporal shifts in landscape connectivity, which was highest at night in summer and lowest during daytime in autumn. In particular, the onset of the autumn hunting season induced an abrupt decrease in landscape connectivity.
Human disturbance had a strong impact on roe deer movements, generating pronounced spatio-temporal variation in landscape connectivity. However, high connectivity at night across all seasons implies that Europe’s most abundant and widespread large herbivore potentially plays a key role in transporting ticks, seeds and nutrients among habitats.
KeywordsCapreolus capreolus Fragmentation Habitat selection Step selection functions Human activity Human infrastructures
We thank the local hunting associations, the Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs de la Haute-Garonne for allowing us to work in the Comminges, as well as all coworkers and volunteers for help collecting data. We thank two anonymous referees for constructive comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This work was performed using the facilities of the CC LBBE/PRABI and was supported by the “EUROENET” ANR grant ANR-14-CE02-0017-01 and the “OSCAR” ANR grant ANR-11 AGRO 001 05.
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