Fallen leaves and unpalatable plants as alternative foods for sika deer under food limitation

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Abstract

Feeding behavior and rumen contents of sika deer (Cervus nippon Temminck) under food limitation were studied on Nakanoshima Island, Hokkaido. During the phase of population growth, the deer subsisted on tree bark and twigs, deciduous leaves and dwarf bamboos (Sasa spp.) in the winter. After a crash in population, the deer began feeding on the fallen leaves of deciduous trees and continued to do so throughout the year. They also ate unpalatable plants Cephalotaxus harringtonia var. nana Rehd., Senecio cannabifolius Less. and Cynanchum caudatum Maxim. as winter foods, which used to remain untouched by deer, and had accordingly expanded their distributions, following a decrease in the amount of dwarf bamboos available. These facts suggest that sika deer drastically shift their foods and exploit alternative foods under conditions of food limitation.

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