Effects of lactation on feeding behaviour and habitat use in wild Red deer hinds

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Abstract

In many mammals, the energetic costs of lactation double a female's daily energy requirements on her activity budgets, food choice and ranging behaviour–but the effects of lactation have rarely been documented. In this paper, the ecological consequences of lactation in free-ranging Red deer (Cervus elaphus) hinds on the lsle of Rhum is examined by comparing the feeding behaviour, habitat use and ranging behaviour of hinds that were supporting calves (milk hinds) with hinds that did not have calves (yeld hinds). In summer, milk hinds graze for approximately two hours longer per day then yeld hinds. This difference has disappeared by the latter half of the winter, when the grazing budgets of milk and yeld hinds are similar. Both in summer and winter milk hinds spend more time grazing on the most strongly selected plant communities (short, herb-rich greens) where standing crops are low but food quality is comparatively high. Inter-year variation in habitat use by milk hinds is also closely related to variation in rainfall—while this is not the case among yeld hinds. Both in summer and winter, yeld hinds range more widely than milk hinds.

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