How do red deer react to increased visitor numbers? A case study on human-deer encounter probability and its effect on cortisol stress responses

Gabriel Dixon*, ANDREW MARRIOTT, Graham Stelfox, Chris Dunkerley, SVEN BATKE

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

The numbers of visitors to greenspaces in the United Kingdom has increased over the last few years as the health benefits of spending time in greenspaces have become better known. This has led to problems for conservation ecologists due to increased numbers of reported human-wildlife encounters. Deer are often found in public spaces and are of particular concern. Previous research suggests elevated levels of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) in deer is a result of increased human activity. This has been linked to several negative effects on the deer’s health. From a practitioner’s point of view, it is therefore important to implement effective management strategies that are based on scientific evidence to help ensure the welfare of managed deer populations. In an effort to identify the impact of visitor numbers on faecal cortisol concentrations, samples from 2 red deer (Cervus elaphus) herds in Lyme Park (Cheshire), United Kingdom, were collected and analysed. A predictive spatial model was developed based on logistic regression to identify areas within the park of low and high human-deer encounter probability. The faecal cortisol levels were found to be significantly higher on days with a high number of visitors. In addition, landscape features such as buildings and roads increased the probability of human-deer encounters, whereas woodland and scrub decreased the probability. However, human-deer encounter probability changed with distance to the features. By providing local park managers with this scientific data, these findings can directly inform current management efforts to reduce deer stress levels in Lyme Park. In addition, the spatial modelling method has the capacity to be implemented in other parks across the country with minimal cost and effort.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-78
Number of pages24
JournalNature Conservation
Volume43
Early online date26 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • assay
  • cervus elaphus
  • cortisol
  • modelling
  • red deer
  • visitors

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