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Spatio-temporal plasticity in roe deer habitat selection

Navigating the dynamic risk landscape to persist in human dominated landscapes

Benedikt Gehr (Wildtier Schweiz) mit Simone Ciuti, Nicoals Morellet, Stefanie Muff, Nadège Bonnot, Lukas Keller, Federico Ossi, Nathan Ranc, Marco Heurich, Francesca Caganacci

Non-lethal and lethal human activities such as agricultural practices or hunting strongly shape the movement and behaviour of wildlife populations in human-dominated landscapes. At the same time the recent return of large carnivores creates a complex risk-landscape for prey. A large-scale comparison is strongly needed to clarify how hunted species manage to navigate the dynamic landscape of risk between human and natural predators to persist in human-dominated landscapes.
In this study we investigate how roe deer may respond to multiple-risk trade-offs by adjusting the use of open habitat and forest. We address this hypothesis using a large data set from seventeen roe deer populations across Europe, distinguishing four different combinations of hunting and lynx predation risk, while controlling for non-lethal human disturbance.
We find that at the continental scale and in absence of predation risk, deer habitat use of open and forest is driven by human disturbance and environmental conditions. In the presence of a single predation risk, there was only weak evidence that deer shift habitat selection in response to hunting whereas lynx predation risk was clearly avoided in most situations. Finally, when both hunting and the natural predator occur, deer habitat use of open and forest is more shaped by the presence of lynx than hunters.
We discuss how adjusting space use at different temporal scales in combination with shifts in diel activity patterns allow ungulates to dwell in the dynamic but predictable multi-risk-landscape of Europe’s anthropogenic environments. However, further re-establishment of the large predator guild in Europe, together with increasing human impact on natural habitats, might make it increasingly difficult for prey species to navigate the dynamic landscape of risk. In this light, we discuss the role of protected areas in the conservation of ungulates in Europe.