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Humans impacting red deer populations more than predators

  • January 13, 2024
  • 2 min read
Humans impacting red deer populations more than predators

A new study has found that human hunting and land use has had a “decisive influence” on red deer density in Europe. Red deer are, along with bison and elk, the largest native wild animals in Europe.

An international study by wildlife ecologists from the University of Freiburg has investigated the factors that affect their population in a particular area. They found that the density of these animals is primarily affected by hunting from humans as well as land use, rather than by large predators such as wolves, lynxes, and bears.

“While large carnivores are often considered key factors in controlling prey populations in undisturbed ecosystems, this is less visible in human-dominated landscapes. Our study illustrates that these interactions are context-dependent,” says Dr. Suzanne T. S. van Beeck Calkoen, former PhD student at the Chair of Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Freiburg and first author of the study.

The team collected population density data from over 492 sites in 28 European countries and analysed the influence that various factors are having on their population. These include habitat productivity, the presence of large carnivores, human activities, climatic variables and the protection status of the area. The data showed that human hunting reduced their population density more than the presence of all large carnivores. Human land use however led to an increase in red deer density.

In most cases, the presence of large carnivores was found to not have any statistically significant effect on the red deer population. It was only when the three large predators in Europe, the wolf, lynx, and bear, all lived in one area that the number of red deer was found to decreese.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, did not however look into how the presence of predators was affecting red deer behaviour.

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Emma Trehane

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