Supplementary feeding is a widespread game management practice in several red deer (Cervus elaphus) populations, with important potential consequences on the biology of this species. In Mediterranean ecosystems food supplementation occurs in the rutting period, when it may change mating system characteristics. We studied the role of food supplementation relative to natural resources in the spatial distribution, aggregation, and mean harem size of females in Iberian red deer (Cervus elaphus hispanicus) during the rut. We studied 30 red deer populations of southwestern Spain, 63% of which experienced supplementary feeding. Using multivariate spatial analyses we found that food supplementation affected distribution of females in 95% of the populations in which it occurred. Green meadows present during the mating season acted as an important natural resource influencing female distribution. Additionally, the level of female aggregation and mean harem size were significantly higher in those populations in which food supplementation determined female distribution than in populations in which female distribution did not depend on supplementary feeding. Because female aggregation and mean harem size are key elements in sexual selection, supplementary feeding may constitute an important anthropogenic element with potential evolutionary implications for populations of Iberian red deer.
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Vol. 74 • No. 8