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Predation has a greater impact in less productive environments: variation in roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, population density across Europe

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We aimed to describe the large-scale patterns in population density of roe deer Caprelous capreolus in Europe and to determine the factors shaping variation in their abundance. Location 

Europe. Methods 

We collated data on roe deer population density from 72 localities spanning 25° latitude and 48° longitude and analysed them in relation to a range of environmental factors: vegetation productivity (approximated by the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation) and forest cover as proxies for food supply, winter severity, summer drought and presence or absence of large predators (wolf, Canis lupus, and Eurasian lynx, Lynx lynx), hunter harvest and a competitor (red deer, Cervus elaphus). Results 

Roe deer abundance increased with the overall productivity of vegetation cover and with lower forest cover (sparser forest cover means that a higher proportion of overall plant productivity is allocated to ground vegetation and thus is available to roe deer). The effect of large predators was relatively weak in highly productive environments and in regions with mild climate, but increased markedly in regions with low vegetation productivity and harsh winters. Other potentially limiting factors (hunting, summer drought and competition with red deer) had no significant impact on roe deer abundance. Main conclusions 

The analyses revealed the combined effect of bottom-up and top-down control on roe deer: on a biogeographical scale, population abundance of roe deer has been shaped by food-related factors and large predators, with additive effects of the two species of predators. The results have implications for management of roe deer populations in Europe. First, an increase in roe deer abundance can be expected as environmental productivity increases due to climate change. Secondly, recovery plans for large carnivores should take environmental productivity and winter severity into account when predicting their impact on prey.
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Keywords: Capreolus capreolus; forest cover; lynx; population density; red deer; roe deer; top-down control; vegetation productivity; winter harshness; wolf

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, 17-230 Białowieża, Poland, 2: Department of Zoology and Evolutionary Genetics, University of Sassari, I-07100 Sassari, Italy, 3: Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, NO-7485 Trondheim, Norway, 4: Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, Taivalkoski Game and Fisheries Research, FIN-93400 Taivalkoski, Finland, 5: Biology Department, Veterinary Faculty, University of Zagreb, Heinzelova 55, HR-10000 Zagreb, Croatia, 6: Department of Forestry, University of Ljubljana, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia , 7: Ukrainian State University of Forestry, General Chuprynky Str. 103, Lviv 79057, Ukraine, 8: Zoological Museum, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Hrushevskoho Str. 4, Lviv 79005, Ukraine, 9: Department of Forest Protection and Wildlife Management, Faculty of Forestry, University of Zagreb, Svetošimunska 25, HR-10002 Zagreb, Croatia, 10: Provincial Administration of Arezzo, Game Management Unit, Piazza della Libertà 1, 57100 Arezzo, 11: The Schmalhausen Institute of Zoology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 01601 Kyiv-30, Bohdan Khmelnitsky Str. 15, Ukraine, 12: Institute of Zoology, National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, 220072 Minsk, Akademicheskaya Str. 27, Belarus Republic, 13: Poliskiy Natural Reserve, vs. Selezivka, Ovruchskiy District, Zhytomyrska Province, 11122, Ukraine

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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