Red deer exhibit spatial and temporal responses to hiking activity

Submitted by editor on 26 August 2021. Get the paper!

By Solene Marion

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are an iconic species of the Scottish Highlands. In Scotland, red deer populations are predominantly managed by culling, which is necessary to limit their grazing impact on the local vegetation. In this context, it is highly useful for management activities if we have a finer understanding of red deer spatial (where) and temporal (when) distribution. The spatio-temporal distribution red deer can be affected by multiple factors, such as the presence of outdoor recreationists. In Scotland, hikers share the same landscape used by red deer. Understanding the interaction between red deer and hikers at various spatio-temporal scales is necessary to facilitate coexistence between red deer management and hiking activity.

In this paper, we focused on one popular hiking area in Scotland (Glen Lyon, Perthshire, Scotland 56°37'04.5"N 4°10'50.7"W), where a large population of red deer is present and actively managed. We looked at the temporal and spatial distribution of red deer depending on different levels of hiking activity and different periods of the day. Using camera traps, we studied patterns of red deer activity at different distances from the hiking path (as most of the hikers stay on the hiking trail in this area). We then compared rates of detection of red deer at different distances from the hiking path relative to hourly hiking activity, daily hiking activity, and day vs night.

We found that during the day (when nearly all hiking activity occurs), red deer were more often detected in areas further away from the hiking path (i.e. more than 1 km from the hiking path) than nearby the hiking path (i.e. less than 150 m). Looking at the day more finely, we detected more red deer close to the hiking path during quiet hiking hours relative to busy hiking hours. Thus, during the day and during busy hiking periods, red deer avoided areas close to the hiking path and were more found further away in less disturbed areas. This spatial avoidance appears to be only a short term impact as red deer returned to the area close to the hiking path during night. Understanding how hiking activity influences red-deer behaviour at fine spatial-temporal scales such as this provides valuable information for informing where and when management activities might take place.