Home Ranges of Red Deer in a European Old-Growth Forest

Article excerpt


We monitored four male and seven female red deer (Cervus elaphus) from Mar. 2001 to Mar. 2003 in Bialowieza National Park (BNP), Poland, to determine their home ranges in one of the best preserved old-growth forests in lowland Europe, and with large (>15 kg) carnivores present. Mean home-range size of adult males (36.0 km^sup 2^) was significantly larger than adult females (8.4 km^sup 2^). Seasonal home-range sizes differed significantly among seasons for both males and females, with the largest home ranges being in autumn for males (23.0 km^sup 2^), and winter for females (7.1 km^sup 2^). Inter-sexual differences in home ranges appeared to be influenced by differences in reproductive strategies and physiological needs. Both sexes exhibited strong range fidelity, although home ranges in different years overlapped more for individual males (93-100%) than females (71-90%). Home ranges of red deer in BNP were substantially larger than that reported in previous studies throughout Europe, suggesting that in old-growth forests with large carnivores present (i.e., the historical situation for most of Europe), red deer need large areas to meet their seasonal and annual requirements.


Red deer ( Census elaphus) are considered big game animals in most areas of Europe, and most populations are heavily hunted (Ueckermann, 1987; Whitehead, 1993). The primary predators of red deer, wolves (Cants lupus) and Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), have been extirpated throughout most of Europe (Nowak, 1999). Additionally, most historic habitats on the continent have been transformed by humans, primarily due to conversion to agriculture and coniferous tree plantations (Ellenberg and Strutt, 1988). For example, temperate Europe historically was dominated by lowland deciduous old-growth forests, although <1% of this habitat remains (Ellenberg and Strutt, 1988). Consequently, most research on red deer has focused on managed populations that are influenced by human hunting, human-altered habitats, and/or lack of large (>15 kg) carnivores. To investigate ecological situations of evolutionary significance, however, research must be conducted in protected communities within natural (i.e., relatively unaltered by human activity) and historical habitat. For example, previous research showed red deer home ranges vary from 1 km^sup 2^ in on the Isle of Rhum (Glutton-Brock et al., 1982), to 10 km^sup 2^ in coniferous tree plantations in Scotland (Catt and Staines, 1987). In some areas, red deer appear to exhibit strong territoriality (Carranza et al, 1990), whereas in other areas they migrate seasonally over large areas (Szemethy et al., 1998). However, it is unknown which, if any, of these movement patterns are characteristic of red deer under conditions more similar to those in which the species evolved.

Research in North America indicated old-growth forests can provide several advantages to deer species compared to regenerating forests (Schoen et al, 1981; Harestead et al, 1982; Van Hörne et al., 1988; Happe, 1990). For example, among North American elk (Ceruus elaphus), conspecifics to red deer, old-growth forests provided greater benefits in harsh winters, compared to regenerating forests (Jenkins and Starkey, 1993). Previous research in Bialowieza Forest showed that red deer densities were highest in the old-growth forest stands of BNP, compared to surrounding managed forests dominated by coniferous tree plantations (Jedrzejewska and Jedrzejewski, 1998). Additionally, a review of ungulate densities throughout woodlands in Poland showed that total biomass of deer per unit area was positively correlated with percentage of deciduous forest stand, probably due to higher food availability in this forest type (e.g., browse supply, acorn crop) compared to managed coniferous forests (Jedrzejewska et al., 1994). Thus, deciduous old-growth forests in Europe clearly provide advantages to red deer compared to managed forests, although there is no information regarding red deer movements in this habitat type. …