Habitat selection and feeding ecology of red (Cervus elaphus L.) and roe (Capreolus capreolus L.) deer in the Central Apennines, Italy
This study investigated the ecology of red and roe deer in a protected area of Central Apennines in Italy in 1992 and 1993, with particular reference to the habitat selection in relation to food resources and the botanical composition of the diet of the two deer species and their inter-relationships. In addition, deer population densities were estimated and their impact on woody vegetation was assessed. Habitat selection by red and roe deer in relation to food resources of habitats was investigated by pellet group counts. Red deer used a wider range of habitats, preferring Deciduous Wood in winter and Rocky and Steep Meadow in summer and autumn, while roe deer selected woods with thick undergrowth and conifers, with no marked seasonal variation. Both deer species avoided Beech Woods, which provided the least undergrowth and cover. Red deer showed a higher use than roe deer of all habitats except of Mixed Wood where it was similar. The patterns of habitat selection shown by the two deer species seemed to reflect their ecological requirements, although seasonal interspecific competition was suggested for the use of some habitats. The diet of red and roe deer was investigated by microhistological analysis of faeces. An anatomical key of food plants was created to identify food categories. Red deer ate mainly Monocotyledonous Herbs, especially in winter, as well as Deciduous Trees (in autumn) and Conifers (in spring). Dicotyledonous Herbs and Shrubs were the least frequent food category, eaten mainly in summer and autumn. Roe deer diet was composed relatively equally by all the food categories, with little seasonal variation. However, Deciduous Trees and Conifers, combined, were the most consumed foods. Within the tree food categories, roe deer showed a preference for Conifers, whereas the selection for them by red deer probably depended on the seasonal availability of Deciduous Trees.