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The common pheasant Phasianus colchicus is one of the most popular game bird species in Europe. In Italy their populations are commonly managed in order to increase the number of birds for the hunting season. For this reason we have analysed the effect of management strategies, such as hunting effort and land use and characteristics, on the number of pheasants harvested in 19 hunting districts (HDs) in Tuscany during 2001–2003 to detect the best strategies. Our results showed that, in addition to hunter density, protected area, number of wild pheasants relocated and year were selected in the final multivariate model which best explained the number of pheasants harvested. Restocking using wild pheasants captured in protected areas seemed to be of higher importance than releasing farm-reared pheasants. The key tool to sustaining the hunting pressure on pheasants seems to be correct management of the habitat combined with an adequate number of protected areas which can safeguard and produce wild pheasants which can then be captured and relocated or disperse naturally.
The breeding potential of a monogamous animal population should be maximal during equal operational sex ratio, and empirical evidence suggests that the population-wide sex ratio may be linked to population density. We studied the sex ratio of eiders Somateria mollissima migrating into the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea, in nine years during 1979–2005 (1979–1980, 1982–1983 and 2001–2005), and the sex ratio of birds collected by Danish hunters during 1982–2004. In two decades, the sex ratio during peak migration has reversed from female bias to male bias, and hunting statistics have shown a significantly increasing adult male bias. Also the proportion of juvenile males has shown a significant increase (Danish hunting statistics 1982–2004), which indicates either that the primary sex ratio of ducklings is exceedingly male biased, or that the mortality of female ducklings has increased. This shift in sex ratio is paralleled by a dramatic decrease in the Baltic eider population which started in the early 1990s. The proportion of juveniles in the hunting bag, an indicator of breeding success in the Baltic, significantly decreased during our study period. The sex ratio of migrating eiders showed seasonal fluctuations, the pattern of which has changed during the study period. Particularly the proportion of late-migrating females has decreased dramatically since the early 1980s, suggesting a declining influx of subadult females. Both the increased male bias and the decreased breeding success are likely to be linked with the population decline. A primary contributor to the shift in sex ratio and the declining trend in breeding success and population size is possibly differential mortality of the sexes during breeding, as the mortality of breeding females has increased sharply in the western Gulf of Finland, mainly due to predation by white-tailed sea eagles Haliaeetus albicilla and American minks Mustela vison, the former of which has recently increased in numbers. It is unlikely that differential winter mortality of the sexes can explain our results, as the wintering area of eiders from the Gulf of Finland has remained the same, and the Danish hunting bag reflects the existing sex ratio. Our study highlights the need for future empirical and theoretical work on the relationship between population sex ratio and population density.
We studied habitat dynamics of the Canadian beaver Castor canadensis in a boreal forest landscape in southern Finland at two scales: the beaver pond level and the landscape level. To explore the changes in tree species composition due to beaver browsing and flooding, six abandoned beaver ponds were sampled (537 sample plots altogether). For habitat dynamics at the landscape scale, the variation in the flooded area and the number of active beaver colonies were recorded during 18 years (1980–1998). At the pond level, flooding appeared to effect more rapid and more pronounced changes in woody growth production than browsing. Coniferous trees were particularly susceptible to flooding, and deciduous trees were more susceptible to browsing. Deciduous trees dominated during succession following a flooding. At the landscape level, mean occupation time of a colony site was found to be short (2.6 years), and the mean area of beaver impoundments was small (0.14% of the total area). Recolonisation of habitats occurred on average nine years after previous abandonment. A reason for the short occupation time may have been scarcity of food. The results suggest that both browsing and flooding should be considered when studying the dynamics of woody growth used by beavers.
Dispersal and long-term monitoring of beaver Castor canadensis and C. fiber populations has been hampered by the inability to retain external transmitters on the animals and the limited range of internal transmitters. We tested several transmitter designs to develop an effective and reliable external transmitter for beavers. A modified ear-tag transmitter fitted with a plastic sleeve and attached to the tail was found efficacious in pen trials. We captured and tagged 31 beavers in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, to further test these modified ear-tag transmitters in the field. Retention of the sleeve transmitter averaged 343.5 days±44.2 (SE), more than triple the time previously reported. The addition of neoprene washers to the underside of the tail increased retention to 89%. Long-term monitoring of beaver populations may now be possible with increased retention of transmitters with the addition of neoprene washers.
Faecal genotyping has been proposed as a method to examine the diets of individuals, but this application has been virtually unexplored by wildlife biologists. We used faecal genotyping and conventional scat analysis to determine the diets of 42 coyotes Canis latrans belonging to nine social groups in Alaska. We use rarefaction to examine the effect of scat sample size on the accuracy and precision of individual diets, and we simulate diets from scats to determine how diet richness and evenness affect sample size requirements. We then demonstrate the utility of this technique by examining variation in diet among individual coyotes and social groups in relation to prey availability. Estimates of diet diversity and composition were highly variable when <10 scats were used to construct the diet. Diets simulated with a uniform (i.e. even) distribution of prey items required generally smaller sample sizes to estimate diet diversity and richness than diets with exponentially distributed items; however, items in actual scats were exponentially distributed. We found moderate dietary variability among individuals in our study area, and diet overlap was higher among coyotes within social groups than between groups. As predicted by optimal foraging theory, the niche widths of all coyote groups expanded as their primary prey (the snowshoe hare Lepus americanus) became scarce during our three-year study. Despite increased niche width, diet overlap among groups remained constant, suggesting that coyotes selected differing alternative prey. Spatiotemporal variation in snowshoe hare availability explained 70% of the variation in hare consumption among groups, indicating that variation in local prey availability may be the primary cause of diet variation among coyotes. Although faecal genotyping can be used to address ecological questions at the individual level, studies should be designed specifically for this purpose so that sufficient numbers of faeces can be obtained.
Deer antlers are bony fighting structures which are unique in that they are both easily accessible for analysis and that they are grown every year; thus, they make up good models for the study of bones. Previous studies have shown that antler bone composition is related to the external quality (antler size and weight) and the mechanical quality of the antlers, and that it reflects mineral nutrition and early growth. Because one of the main nutritional factors influencing early growth is maternal milk production and composition, and because lactation plays an important role in post-weaning growth, we set out to examine whether milk yield and composition are correlated with the mineral composition of spike antlers of 22 yearling Iberian red deer Cervus elaphus hispanicus. Total milk protein yield was positively associated with ash, Ca and P content in antler, inversely with K content, but no relationship was found for Na, Mg, Fe or Zn. This association was evidently exerted through an increase in calf growth during lactation, because in the model, the inclusion of calf weight gain up to week 18 (approximately the age at weaning) rendered milk production and composition non-significant. However, this correlation was not observed for the minor minerals Na, Mg, Fe and Zn. Gains during lactation, but not between lactation and antler growth, influenced the composition of major minerals. Manipulating milk quality could not only affect general calf growth, but also antler quality and very likely the quality of other bones, as well as mechanical performance, which is linked to ash or Ca content.
A heterogeneous environment includes several levels of resource aggregation. Individuals do not respond to this heterogeneity in the same way and their responses depend on the scale at which they perceive it, and they develop different foraging tactics accordingly. The development of methods to analyse animal movements has enabled the study of foraging tactics at several scales. Nevertheless, applied to large vertebrates, these methods have generally been used at large scales, such as for migration trips or for the study of marine patches several kilometres large. In our study, we applied a recent method, the First-Passage Time analysis, based on a measure of the foraging effort along the path, to a much finer scale, i.e. <500 m. We used 30 daily paths of highly sedentary roe deer Capreolus capreolus females. We modified the initial method, developed by Fauchald & Tveraa (2003), to detect a multi-patch use of the habitat. First-Passage Time analysis results showed that most of the female roe deer exploited their home range as a patchy resource, ranging within 1–5 areas of intensive use in their home range. These areas were identified as the most attractive sites within the roe deer female home range. Moreover, this method allowed us to rank the attractive areas according to the time spent in each area. Coupled with habitat selection analysis to identify what makes these areas attractive, the First-Passage Time analysis should offer a suitable tool for landscape ecology and management.
Information on reproductive traits of semi-captive breeding of the pampas deer Ozotoceros bezoarticus arerunguaensis, an endangered species, was registered during 20 years. Birth events were monitored every 1-2 days from 1981 to 2000, and birth date, mother and father identities, sex and mass of fawns were all registered. Although births occurred throughout the year, a seasonal pattern with a peak in spring was observed. Dispersion of births throughout the year increased in multiparous females that previously gave birth four times or more. The interval between two consecutive parturitions was ∼10 months, independently of the mother parity and of the sex of the fawn, but differed according to the timing of the previous birth. Individual variability in interbirth intervals was significantly higher in primiparous than in multiparous females. Hinds born in semi-captivity had their first birth earlier in their life than hinds that were originally captured (at <1 month of age) from the wild. Single fawns were observed in all but one birth, in which twins were observed. Sex ratio was not influenced by the female parity, the season, or by the father identity. Only the mother identity influenced offspring birth mass.
Various survey methods are used to monitor and manage ungulate populations. The choice of optimal method depends on estimation accuracy, management objective and financial constraints. Here we compare estimates produced by four different methods for estimating population size, i.e. aerial counts, hunter observations, pellet group counts and cohort analysis. A Swedish moose Alces alces population was studied during 1973–2005 in the Grimsö Wildlife Research Area (135 km2). The highest correlation was found between cohort analysis and aerial counts (r=0.69, P<0.05), and the hunter observations and the aerial counts (r=0.76, P<0.10). The different methods produced relatively consistent trends in population estimates over years. Pellet group counts prior to 1997 were not significantly correlated with the other methods, probably due to unrepresentative spatial sampling. A comparison of the aerial and pellet group counts in 2002 and 2006, showed that the average defecation rate was estimated at approximately 14 pellet groups per day per moose. Our results show the importance of having representative spatial sampling in pellet group surveys and indicate that hunter observations can be a useful tool for estimating long-term population trends even in moderately sized areas.
By decreasing particle size of ingested forages, and thereby exposing more surface area to microbial degradation, chewing plays a key role in digestion efficiency in ruminants. However, the investigation of chewing behaviour at a fine scale, and in particular of rumination parameters such as chew number or bolus duration, surprisingly remains limited largely to applied agricultural research. The goal of the present study was to investigate seasonal effects on rumination parameters in free-ranging impalas Aepyceros melampus, an African ruminant experiencing a strong seasonality in food quality. Male and female impala increased both chew number and bolus duration in the dry season as compared to the rainy season. This is consistent with previous studies on livestock reporting an effect of food quality on rumination parameters, and with previous work on impala reporting an effect of season on food quality. The coefficient of variation in the chew number increased for both sexes between the rainy season and the dry season, consistent with the greater variability in the food items consumed in the dry season as reported by previous studies. Only males had an increased coefficient of variation in bolus duration between the rainy season and the dry season. Because females with young may increase chewing investment as compared to dry females in response to energetic costs of lactation, the heterogeneity in reproductive status among females during the rainy season (i.e. rearing period) may have resulted in heterogeneity in bolus duration, thereby interfering with the effect of the variability in the plants consumed. Rumination is an important process that seems to have been overlooked in field studies. Future studies, based on long-term data sets of marked free-ranging individuals should investigate to which extent parameters as easy to record as chew number or bolus duration could be used by managers to assess factors such as food quality and thus, ultimately, population performance in ruminants.
Reserves that are closed to hunting are important to wintering wildfowl Anatidae. Reserves can also benefit local hunters, because they are often used as day-roosts by birds prior to nocturnal feeding in surrounding wetlands. In this study, we used annual hunting bags from 45 hunting estates in the Camargue, southern France, to study the relationship between hunting success and distance to the nearest duck day-roost, which are generally located in protected areas. Five dabbling duck species Anas spp. and a diving duck species (pochard Aythya ferina) were studied. The relationship between hunting bag and distance from roost was negative in all cases except mallard Anas platyrhynchos, which is subject to specific hunting management practices (i.e. raise and release). However, a significant trend was not found for wigeon A. penelope and shoveler A. clypeata. This supports the hypothesis that hunting estates closer to protected areas are more successful. However, the decrease in hunting bags with increasing distance from the nearest roost could be seen in as little as a few thousands of metres in all species. This suggests that only hunting grounds with a distance of <2–3 kilometres from the nearest roost may actually have increased hunting accessibility for certain duck species.
In this article, we evaluate the reliability of a set of easy-to-collect qualitative traits, such as appearance of the umbilical cord, position and behavioural reactions before and after handling, for ageing fallow deer Dama dama neonates. Using correspondence analysis, we found that the studied set of traits can distinguish the age of fawns during the hiding period, which, in this species, lasts only a few days. Ageing criteria are necessary to improve our understanding of mother-infant relationships, which may have important relevance when analysing the population dynamics of this ungulate, typical of Mediterranean habitats in Italy.