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Stress and bark peeling in red deer

Peeling damage by red deer (Cervus elaphus) is one of the major problems in wildlife management, often entailing high economic losses. Forest damage is assumed to be intensified as a consequence of stress, which to a large extent is caused by human disturbances or social stress. Frequent perturbations lead to a shift of activity and habitat use towards night-time and cover, resulting in digestion inefficiency which is supposed to be partly compensated by peeling. The stress response is characterised by mobilisation of energy and increased cardiovascular tone along with suppression of digestion, growth, reproduction and immunity. These effects are produced by adrenal hormones, catecholamines and glucocorticoids. Hence, measuring blood concentrations of glucocorticoids serve to quantify the stress response. The collection of blood samples, however, can in itself be a stressor which may obscure the results. As a consequence, non-invasive methods for the determination of glucocorticoids have been developed. These assays utilise faecal samples that can be collected without any need to handle the animals, which is of particular importance in wildlife animals. Bark peeling may also be assessed by utilising faecal samples. These non-invasive methods will for the first time allow major causes of stress and the relationship between stress and peeling damage to be examined in a wildlife species, without any need to handle the animals.
Project leader
Huber Susanne
Type of Research
Basic research
Vetmed Research Units
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology
Funded by
Bundesministerium für Bildung - Ö, Minoritenplatz 5, 1010 Wien, Austria
7 Publications

Drack, J; Huber, S (2004): Is bark peeling by red deer (Cervus elaphus) a result of human disturbance?. Meeting of the European Association of Zoo- and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZWV), Ebeltoft, Dk, 19.05. - 23.05.2004. Meeting of the European Association of Zoo- and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZWV), Ebeltoft, Dk, 19.05. - 23.05.2004.

Huber, S; Bruns, U; Arnold, W (2003): Genotyping herbivore feces facilitating their further analyses. Wildlife Society Bulletin (31), 3 692-697.

Huber, S; Palme, R; Arnold, W (2003): Adrenocortical response of red deer (cervus elaphus) to human disturbances. Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Annual Meeting, Cincinnati, OH, June 25–28, 2003. Hormones and Behavior (44), 1 55-55.

Huber, S; Palme, R; Zenker, W; Möstl, E (2003): Non-invasive monitoring of the adrenocortical response in red deer. Journal of Wildlife Management (67) 258-266.

Drack, J; Huber, S (2002): Human disturbance effects on bark peeling in red deer (Cervus elaphus). 4. International Symposium on Physiology and Behaviour of Wild and Zoo Animals, Berlin, Germany, Germany, SEP 29 - OCT 2, 2002. Advances in Ethology (37), Suppl. 163-163.

Huber, S (2002): Behavioural endocrinology of reproduction and stress in wildlife species. Habilitationsschrift, Vet. Med. Univ. Wien, pp. 150.

Huber, S; Palme, R; Arnold, W (2003): Effects of season, sex, and sample collection on concentrations of fecal cortisol metabolites in red deer (Cervus elaphus). Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2003; 130(1):48-54

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