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Variations in bark-stripping by red deer Cervus elaphus across Europe


  • Editor: RM

H. Verheyden. E-mail:


  • 1The literature on bark-stripping by red deer Cervus elaphus in Europe is reviewed to reveal quantitative variation in this behaviour and relate it to deer density and local characteristics such as dominant tree species, occurrence of artificial feeding, altitude, region and size of the study site. We also review the importance of bark in red deer diets over the seasons and discuss the causes of bark-stripping, focusing on the significance of bark as food.
  • 2Over the 36 sites examined, the rate of bark-stripping was highly variable (from 0 to 84% of susceptible trees debarked), with less damage in Scotland than in other European sites for which bark-stripping rates were higher at high red deer density. Altitude, the size of the study site, the number of dominant tree species and the occurrence of artificial feeding do not significantly relate to the rate of bark-stripping.
  • 3Bark sometimes made up a large proportion of red deer diet (> 10%), especially in areas with severe winters (high levels of snow), whereas in study sites with mild winters, bark was practically not eaten at all.
  • 4These results suggest that severe bark-stripping could be related to a reduction in food resource availability. This food availability hypothesis needs to be better documented, dealing particularly with the possible interaction between food availability and red deer density.