RPDOC - Retour Post-Doctorants

roe deer behavioural Plasticity and Adaptation To landscape CHanges – PATCH

How has roe deer managed to colonize and flourish in human-dominated landscapes?

Landscape modifications, especially through habitat loss and fragmentation, have been recognized throughout the world as a key issue affecting biodiversity. It is critical and urgent to better understand how animal populations respond to environmental change and persist in modified environments.

Role of behavioural plasticity in the adaptation of roe deer to landscape openness.

Varying with habitat use requirements and species dispersal capacities, the impact of habitat fragmentation can be very different from one species to another. While many studies have investigated the effects of landscape modifications on species that are negatively impacted by habitat fragmentation, we still lack information on native species which benefit from habitat fragmentation and land use. This is, however, an important avenue of research, because many of these synanthropic species are considered as pests by society or at least as species for which we should control their expansion and density to avoid depredation and human-wildlife conflicts. In addition, the impacts of landscape modifications on behaviours are still poorly understood. And yet, behavioural plasticity plays a key role in species adaptation to the rapid environmental changes caused by anthropogenic activities because of the high reactivity and high lability of behaviours compared to morphological or physiological traits. The PATCH project therefore aims at explaining how behavioural plasticity has enabled a primarily forest-dwelling species, the European roe deer, to colonize and flourish in human-dominated landscapes. In particular, we investigate the effects of landscape openness on social behaviour, reproduction and dispersal, as well as on the genetic diversity and demography of populations.

We will collate existing field data and tissue samples from the long-term monitoring (over several decades) of five contrasting roe deer populations (3 in France and 2 in Sweden), with various degree of habitat fragmentation. We will complement these data and these samples by performing new field work in the three French populations in 2013 and 2014. The field work will consist mainly in capturing roe deer, in marking them individually, in measuring them, in collecting samples for genetic and immunological analyses and in equipping them with VHF collars to monitor their movements and their survival. We will genotype tissue samples using microsatellite molecular markers, and we will then use these data to characterize the social behavior, reproduction and dispersal of the study populations, as well as to estimate individual reproductive success and genetic diversity within populations. We will finally use capture -mark-recapture data and population modeling in order to characterize life-history strategies and population dynamics of the different populations. In this way, we will be able to: (1) investigate the effects of landscape openness on social behaviour, reproduction and dispersal, as well as on genetic diversity of populations, (2) evaluate whether the behavioural changes observed in response to the modified environment are adaptive or not (whether they affect the survival and reproduction of individuals), and (3) quantify the demographic responses of populations to contrasted situations of habitat fragmentation and land use.

The PATCH project should improve our understanding of how wild populations cope with environmental changes and persist in modified environments.
It should enable us to assess the degree of behavioural plasticity displayed by roe deer as a response to landscape modifications and to evaluate if its behavioural response is adaptive or not (whether it affects the survival and reproduction of individuals).
It should also enhance our knowledge on the impact of landscape modifications on the behaviour, life-history and population genetics of the European roe deer, and more generally on population viability.
We finally expect the project to generate scientific knowledge guidance for decision making on biodiversity and landscape management. In particular, the results should provide essential information to predict how to manage the expansion of ungulate species across Europe in relation to landscape modifications in order to resolve associated conflicts among the different stakeholders.

The PATCH project is mainly driven by fundamental research, since it essentially aims at providing new insights into how wild populations cope with environmental changes. However, the project will also have direct applications for society, since the results obtained will provide essential information to predict how to manage the expansion of ungulate species across Europe in relation to landscape modifications. It is a key issue from a societal, economic and environmental point of view. Indeed, while roe deer represents a major game species across Europe and hunting activity generates important revenue for many rural areas, the geographic and demographic expansion of the European roe deer has important socio-economic repercussions (i.e. forest and agricultural damage, animal-vehicles collisions, risk of expansion of human diseases vectored by deer, transmission of parasites and pathogens to cattle, impact on biodiversity).

The PATCH project will generate several publications in major science journals of sound novel knowledge on the effects of landscape modifications on behaviours, genetic diversity and life-history of roe deer.
The results will also be communicated t

Landscape modifications, especially through habitat loss and fragmentation, have been recognized throughout the world as a key issue affecting biodiversity. In the context of global changes stemming from an ongoing and ever growing human footprint on the planet, it is thus critical and urgent to better understand how animal populations respond to environmental change and persist in modified environments. While many studies have investigated the effects of landscape modifications on species that are negatively impacted by habitat fragmentation, we still lack information on native species which benefit from habitat fragmentation and land use. This is, however, an important avenue of research, because many of these synanthropic species are considered as pests by society or at least as species for which we should control their expansion and density to avoid depredation and human-wildlife conflicts. In addition, while the majority of studies has focused on the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on species richness and abundance or on genetic diversity, the impacts of landscape modifications on behaviours and life-histories are still poorly understood. And yet, behavioural plasticity plays a key role in species adaptation to the rapid environmental changes caused by anthropogenic activities because of the high reactivity and high lability of behaviours. The PATCH project is therefore designed to alleviate these issues. It aims at explaining how behavioural plasticity has enabled a primarily forest-dwelling species, the European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), to colonize and flourish in human-dominated landscapes such as mixed forest/farmland mosaics and open agricultural landscapes, thanks to its great adaptability and plasticity. In particular, we will (i) investigate the effects of landscape openness on social behaviour, reproduction and dispersal, as well as on genetic diversity, (ii) evaluate whether the behavioural changes observed in response to the modified environment are adaptive or not, and (iii) quantify the demographic responses of populations to contrasted situations of habitat fragmentation and land use. This work will be based on both an intensive study along a gradient of landscape openness within a single population as well as the comparison of contrasting European populations with various degrees of habitat fragmentation and land use. We will collate existing field data and tissue samples from the long-term monitoring of five contrasting roe deer populations. We will complement these data and these samples by performing new field work in three of these populations. We will then genotype the samples using up to 22 microsatellite markers and use the genotyping data to characterize the social behaviour, reproduction and dispersal of the study populations, as well as to estimate individual reproductive success and genetic diversity within populations. We will finally use capture-mark-recapture data and population modelling in order to characterize life-history strategies and population dynamics of the different populations. This project is mainly driven by fundamental research, since it essentially aims at providing new insights into how wild populations cope with environmental changes. However, the project will also have direct applications for society, since the results obtained will provide essential information to predict how to manage the expansion of ungulate species across Europe in relation to landscape modifications.

Project coordinator

Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Laboratoire public)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Help of the ANR 373,514 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: November 2012 - 36 Months

Useful links