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Food and seasonal adaptations in red deer

Abstract
Herbivores of the boreal and temperate zones like red deer (Cervus elaphus) are exposed to strong seasonal variations of environmental conditions. Consequently, northern ungulates have evolved various adaptations (e.g. seasonality of reproduction, growth and fattening; winter fur) which are known to be under photoperiodic control. However, evidence is growing that additional cues like the availability and quality of food may govern fine-tuning and ensure flexibility. We found in a preliminary study that red deer are able to substantially decrease metabolic rate by undergoing nocturnal peripheral hypothermia and that annual changes in metabolic rate are primarily due to seasonal changes of the quality of natural forage. In the present study we investigate to which extent protein and energy content of food (1) act as zeitgeber for seasonal adaptions, (2) influence seasonal changes of metabolic rate, and (3) affect the occurrence of episodes of peripheral hypothermia in red deer. Differential feeding ad lib. of two groups via a automatic feeding station with two sorts of pellets reflecting the seasonal maximum and minimum in energy and protein content of natural forage, respectively, will reveal the influence of food quality on seasonal adaptation. Deer are equipped with telemetry transmitters for recording of heart rate as an indicator of metabolic activity, of subcutaneous temperature, and of locomotor activity. Furthermore, natural herbage intake, digestibility, energy intake and climate conditions are measured. The results of this study will provide fundamental insights into mechanisms of seasonal changes of metabolic rates and cues involved in their regulation. Furthermore, the results will be relevant for wildlife management since feeding of red deer during winter with inadequate food may cause disturbances of the reduction of energy requirements and may contribute to damages of forest vegetation by red deer.
Project leader
Beiglböck Christoph
Duration
01.11.02-31.03.05
Type of Research
Basic research
Staff
Beiglböck C., Contact person
Vetmed Research Units
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology
Funded by
FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Sensengasse 1, 1090 Wien, Austria
2 Publications

Balfanz, F; Beiglböck, Ch; Huber, S; Palme, R; Arnold, W (2006): The influence of season, food intake and social rank on cortisol secretion in Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). Int. Deer Biology Congress, Prague, Czech Republic, Czech Republic, 7.-11.8.2006. Int. Deer Biology Congress, Prague, Czech Republic, 7.-11.8.2006.

Balfanz, F; Beiglböck, Ch; Huber, S; Palme, R; Arnold, W (2006): The influence of season, food intake and social rank on cortisol secretion in Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, Budapest, Hungary, Hungary, 24.-28.5.2006. European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, Budapest, Hungary, 24.-28.5.2006.

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