Landscape fragmentation influences winter body mass of roe deer

Authors

  • A.J. Mark Hewison,

  • Nicolas Morellet,

  • Helene Verheyden,

  • Tanguy Daufresne,

  • Jean-Marc Angibault,

  • Bruno Cargnelutti,

  • Joel Merlet,

  • Denis Picot,

  • Jean-Luc Rames,

  • Jean Joachim,

  • Bruno Lourtet,

  • Emmanuel Serrano,

  • Eric Bideau,

  • Nicolas Cebe


A. J. M. Hewison (Mark.Hewison@toulouse.inra.fr), N. Morellet, H. Verheyden, T. Daufresne, J.-M. Angibault, B. Cargnelutti, J. Merlet, D. Picot, J.-L. Rames, J. Joachim, B. Lourtet, E. Serrano, E. Bideau, N. Cebe, Comportement et Ecologie de la Faune Sauvage, Inst. National de la Recherche Agronomique, BP 52627, Castanet-Tolosan Cedex, FR-31326 France. (Present address of E. S.: Servei d'Ecopatologia de Fauna Salvatge, Facultat de Veterinària, Univ. Autònoma de Barcelona, ES-08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain.)

Abstract

Body size of large herbivores is a crucial life history variable influencing individual fitness-related traits. While the importance of this parameter in determining temporal trends in population dynamics is well established, much less information is available on spatial variation in body size at a local infra-population scale. The relatively recent increase in landscape fragmentation over the last century has lead to substantial spatial heterogeneity in habitat quality across much of the modern agricultural landscape. In this paper, we analyse variation in body mass and size of roe deer inhabiting a heterogeneous agricultural landscape characterised by a variable degree of woodland fragmentation. We predicted that body mass should vary in relation to the degree of access to cultivated meadows and crops providing high quality diet supplements. In support of our prediction, roe deer body mass increased along a gradient of habitat fragmentation, with the heaviest deer occurring in the most open sectors and the lightest in the strict forest environment. These spatial differences were particularly pronounced for juveniles, reaching >3 kg (ca 20% of total body mass) between the two extremes of this gradient, and likely have a marked impact on individual fates. We also found that levels of both nitrogen and phosphorous were higher in deer faecal samples in the more open sectors compared to the forest environment, suggesting that the spatial patterns in body mass could be linked to the availability of high quality feeding habitat provided by the cultivated agricultural plain. Finally, we found that adults in the forest sector were ca 1 kg lighter for a given body size than their counterparts in the more open sectors, suggesting that access to nutrient rich foods allowed deer to accumulate substantial fat reserves, which is unusual for roe deer, with likely knock-on effects for demographic traits and, hence, population dynamics.

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