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Plasticity of mating behaviour in red deer (Cervus elaphus) in a Mediterranean environment

Dos Santos Pinto Pires Da Fonesca, Maria Manuela; (1998) Plasticity of mating behaviour in red deer (Cervus elaphus) in a Mediterranean environment. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

In this thesis I address several questions concerning the behavioural ecology of the red deer (Cervus elaphus L.). Despite an extensive literature on red deer biology, and a growing interest on climate change, this is the first comparative study of the effects of climate upon red deer mating behaviour. I studied a red deer population in Portugal living in a mediterranean environment, and compared aspects of their ecology with a population living in a temperate climate, Scotland. In the latter, rutting stags were only observed herding harems of females. In the Mediterranean population, some stags behaved in a clearly territorial manner, marking the boundaries of a part of the range which they then defended against other rutting males. These males showed site attachment, and rutted even in the absence of females. Non-territorial males preferred to follow and defend parties of females, and were seldom observed rutting in their absence. Behavioural plasticity in the Mediterranean was related to the stressful environmental conditions faced by red deer during the mating season. Drought induced food scarcity and poor body condition, affecting both males and females. Individual differences in mating behaviour were most pronounced during the year of highest evironmental stress. Climatic variation between years affected forage availability, and female spatial distribution varied accordingly. When forage was abundant, females showed a preference for high quality food patches. During periods of food shortage, females preferred food patches which enabled them to maximize food intake. Forage quality and quantity were unpredictable in time and space, but the same territories were defended year after year, and by several males in succession. As some stags were seen defending bare soil territories, it seems unlikely forage alone was a driving force promoting territoriality. Habitat heterogeneity was crucial in making the defence of a territory possible and in hampering harem defence, therefore promoting plasticity of behaviour.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Plasticity of mating behaviour in red deer (Cervus elaphus) in a Mediterranean environment
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Biological sciences; Psychology; Red deer
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10099995
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