Context. Irruption of large herbivore populations is characterised by three distinct phases: (1) an exponential increase in population to a peak abundance; (2) a population crash; and (3) a second increase to another population peak, typically lower than the first peak of abundance. However, there has been little study of age- and sex-specific factors that affect the post-initial irruption interactions with food sources.
Aims. We aimed to investigate annual survival rates of sika deer (Cervus nippon Temminck, 1838) in the sequent irruption of a population on Nakanoshima Island, Lake Toya, Japan, with a chronically high density during the period 2002–12.
Methods. Survival monitoring data were obtained for 219 individuals (93 males and 126 females) using radio-collars. Annual survival was quantified, and related factors, i.e. deer abundance and winter severity, were determined by model selection using Akaike information criterion values.
Key Results. The results showed that annual survival rates across sexes and age classes (fawn, yearling, prime-aged, old) decreased with increasing population density, snow depth and winter precipitation. Winter severity had a greater effect on adult survival than density regulation. Nevertheless, female adult survival was maintained at a high level, with a mean of 0.84 (95% CI: 0.80–0.88).
Key conclusions. Robust survival rates for adult females might contribute to the maintenance of a high-density sika deer population in the post-initial irruption.
Implications. We suggest that in the absence of predation and hunting, sika deer population is not able to self-regulate to the density level that avoids an irreversible impact on plants.