The Mesola red deer: present numbers and conservation perspectives
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Dept. of Environmental Sciences – University of Siena
Dept. of Environmental Sciences - University of Siena
Publication date: 2012-12-28
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2012;23(2):36–44

Most likely, the red deer Cervus elaphus of the Mesola Wood (about 1000 ha; NE Italy) are the only native red deer of peninsular Italy and are a national conservation priority. This population shows morphological and genetic peculiarities and is threatened because of its very small distribution range, low numbers, reduced genetic variability and interspecific competition with allochtonous fallow deer Dama dama.

In this paper an assessment is provided of red deer numbers and of relative densities of fallow deer, to evaluate the effects of conservation actions during the last 15 years (e.g. culling of fallow deer, supplementary feeding) on the status of the former. Between July and October 2010, 148 red deer were counted, with a balanced sex-ratio. Red deer productivity was low: the birth rate in 2010 was 0.28 and the post-winter-recruitment in 2011 was 0.21 calves/adult female. Apart from calves, yearlings were about 10% of individuals, in both sexes. Red deer were concentrated in the small (ca. 100 ha) sector of the study area where supplementary feeding is provided. By contrast, fallow deer showed a greater productivity (0.52 fawns/female) and a relatively more homogeneous distribution in the study area than the red deer.

In the last decade, the Mesola red deer have more than doubled, suggesting the favourable effect of management measures on their conservation status. The gradual decline of both productivity and the annual finite rate of increase may indicate that the population is close to the carrying capacity of the Reserve. Present numbers would allow the use of 20-40 individuals to found at least 1 new population in a suitable area. The culling of fallow deer should go on to decrease the impact of this deer on natural food resources of red deer and to reduce the dependence of the latter from supplementary feeding.