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The Deer Hunter: On the effects of human disturbance on deer distribution and browsing behaviour

Lambers, Evert (2019) The Deer Hunter: On the effects of human disturbance on deer distribution and browsing behaviour. Research Project 1, Ecology and Evolution.


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Large carnivores can structure ecosystems by changing the behaviour and distribution of their prey, leading to cascading effects to lower trophic levels. In human dominated areas, humans are thought to have effects similar to large carnivores on ungulates on a macroscale, by forcing ungulates to avoid certain areas, and on a microscale, by forcing ungulates to avoid human tracks. However, it is not yet completely clear how these different scales interact to shape ungulate space use. We studied deer distribution and browsing behaviour in relation to the zonation of recreation and hunting and at different distances from tracks in a natural area in the Netherlands. We performed pellet counts along transects to study deer distribution and we measured browsing on manually planted saplings. In both forest and heathlands we compared zones with different hunting and recreational regimes and we compared plots close to tracks with plots further away from tracks. We found more deer pellets in the zone without hunting and recreation, which only on the heather also led to higher browsing levels. In the recreational zones we found less pellets closer to tracks, but this did not lead to lower browsing levels close to tracks. We found no difference between the zones with hunting and recreation and the zones with only recreation on distribution or browsing. Overall, it seems like recreation affects deer distribution, but hardly affects browsing patterns and hunting does not add to the effect of recreation. We discuss possible explanations for these found effects, such as a shift in day-night rhythm, with the deer compensating browsing in human dominated areas during the night.

Item Type: Thesis (Research Project 1)
Supervisor nameSupervisor E mail
Degree programme: Ecology and Evolution
Thesis type: Research Project 1
Language: English
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2019
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2019 13:40

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