The present study aimed to investigate in the field the effect of the presence of cattle on red deer behavioural patterns, in order to provide information that could be used to improve land management strategies. The research was carried out in a summer range at 1500 m a.s.l. in the Italian Central Alps. Observations were conducted at dawn and at dusk from June to September for four consecutive years. Using a focal animal sampling technique, 179 focal observations were made on deer for 10 min each. On the summer range, overall deer spent most of their time feeding (52.86% of time) and moving (24.95% of time), showing that the study site was used principally as a feeding area. The proportion of time dedicated to resting and comfort behaviours (lying, ruminating and self-grooming) was very low. The general presence of cattle on the summer range did not affect most behavioural patterns of deer, except for the percentage of time spent alert, which was higher in the presence of cattle (P<0.05). Deer observed in the same square grid unit (GU; 6.25 ha) with cattle spent more time standing (P<0.01), moving (P<0.001) and alert (P<0.05) and less time feeding (P<0.001) than deer further away from cattle. The time spent performing resting and comfort behaviours was higher when deer were far from cattle, although these differences were not statistically significant. Despite this, when cattle were present on the summer range, about one third of the deer were observed close to them. Independently from the contingent presence or absence of cattle or from their proximity, deer spent more time feeding (P<0.001) and less time moving (P<0.001) and standing (P<0.001) in areas subjected to higher cattle grazing pressure (with an index of presence of cattle higher than 0.5 animals/h/ha), suggesting that these areas were preferred for feeding activity, probably due the fact that cattle grazing helps to improve the quality of the pasture. Only six "aggressive" interactions without physical contact and one "play" interaction were recorded between deer and cattle over the whole study period. Deer were never observed to win an interaction with cattle, possibly due to their smaller body size. Despite modifications to red deer behaviour in response to cattle proximity, the general disturbance produced by cattle is limited and their presence may be tolerated by deer.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Istituto di Zootecnica, University of Milan, Via Celoria 10, I-20133 Milan, Italy. email@example.com|
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