Aim This paper describes the dispersal process of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus Linnaeus, 1758) with respect to climatic factors, landscape characteristics and human activity. We hypothesized that environmental characteristics constrain the relative abundance and dispersal process of roe deer.
Location The study was conducted in the Iberian Mountains, north-eastern Spain, during 1986–2000.
Methods Roe deer colonization dates in the study area were obtained from a survey for large mammals and from direct interviews with the employees of the Fish and Game Agency. We used a 10 × 10 km UTM grid as the sampling unit (n = 91). The relative abundance of roe deer was estimated by counting the number of pellet groups in line transects, which were representative of the habitat availability in the 10 × 10 km UTM grid. Climatic factors were obtained from meteorological stations placed near to the plot. Landscape structure indices, topography and human activity factors were obtained from digital maps using fragstats 3.3 and idrisi 32. We discarded a number of variables with no statistical significance and avoided multicollinearity by using Spearman rank correlation. Then, we used GLMz (with a multinomial error distribution and a logit link function) to analyse the influence of each variable considered in the dispersal process. Finally, GLMz (with a binomial error distribution and a logit link function) were used a posteriori to differentiate between the effects of the explanatory factors on a particular phase of the dispersal process.
Results Our results indicate that proximity to a previously colonized grid significantly affected the global process of roe deer colonization. Independently of the proximity of the nearest population in the previous phase of colonization, our results also indicated that the dispersal process was influenced by precipitation and landscape structure, leading the species to colonize even apparently hostile places. Original nuclei of these populations occurred in territories with high and constant precipitation, and a landscape formed by mosaics of agricultural land with a high proportion of forests. During the expansion process, roe deer colonized territories with summer droughts, dominated by large agricultural patches and with few forest patches.
Main conclusions These data support the working hypothesis that environmental characteristics constrain roe deer relative abundance and dispersal process through the Iberian Mountains. The location of the original nuclei of these populations probably had environmental conditions that were more favourable for the roe deer. Areas settled in the final phases of the dispersal process had low relative abundances of roe deer, and are likely to act mainly as dispersal corridors rather than being able to sustain viable populations themselves.