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14 August 2009 Habitat Selection of a Large Herbivore at High Density and Without Predation: Trade-off between Forage and Cover?
Ariane Massé, Steeve D. Côté
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Although herbivores are generally known to trade off forage in open habitat patches and cover in forested habitat patches, it remains unclear if high population density and low predation risk can modulate the trade-off between forage and cover. We studied a population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) that was at high density and on a large island free of predators to assess the influence of forage and cover on habitat selection under harsh environmental conditions. We fitted 19 female white-tailed deer with global positioning system collars and delineated summer home ranges and core areas. We sampled vegetation in the core areas and in the rest of the home ranges to determine abundance of forage and forest cover within habitat patches, and assessed habitat selection between open and forested habitat patches. At a coarse scale, white-tailed deer preferred open habitat patches over forested ones, suggesting that they adopted a foraging strategy favoring energy intake. At a fine scale, habitat selection was influenced positively by the percentage of ground cover of forbs and deciduous shrubs, but negatively by conifer density. The biomass of preferred plant species, lateral cover, fir regeneration, and distance to the nearest open–forest edge were not strong predictors of habitat selection by deer. We conclude that fine-scale habitat selection by white-tailed deer at high population density and in the absence of predation is mainly determined by forage abundance. These patterns of habitat selection demonstrate that herbivores can adjust their behavior to other limiting factors when predation risk is relaxed.

Ariane Massé and Steeve D. Côté "Habitat Selection of a Large Herbivore at High Density and Without Predation: Trade-off between Forage and Cover?," Journal of Mammalogy 90(4), 961-970, (14 August 2009).
Received: 6 May 2008; Accepted: 1 December 2008; Published: 14 August 2009

behavioral plasticity
limiting factors
Odocoileus virginianus
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