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Insights from a 30-year study demonstrate an inverse correlation between recreational activities and red deer fecundity, with bodyweight as a mediator
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  • Martijn Weterings,
  • Estella Ebbinge,
  • Beau Strijker,
  • Gerrit-Jan Spek,
  • Henry Kuipers
Martijn Weterings
Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein

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Estella Ebbinge
Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein
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Beau Strijker
Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein
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Gerrit-Jan Spek
Vereniging Wildbeheer Veluwe
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Henry Kuipers
Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein
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Human activity is omnipresent in our landscapes. Animals can perceive risk from humans similar to predation risk, which could affect their fitness. We assessed the influence of recreation on bodyweight and pregnancy rates of red deer (Cervus elaphus) between 1985 and 2015. We hypothesized that stress, as a result of recreational activities, affects pregnancy rates of red deer directly and indirectly via a reduction in bodyweight. Furthermore, we expected non-motorized recreational activities to have a larger negative effect on both bodyweight and fecundity, compared to motorized recreational activities. The intensity of recreational activities was recorded through visual observations. We obtained pregnancy data from female red deer that were shot during the regular hunting season. Additionally, age and bodyweight were determined through post-mortem examination. We used two Generalized-Linear-Mixed Models (GLMM) to test the effect of different types of recreation on 1) pregnancy rates and 2) bodyweight of red deer. Recreation had a direct negative correlation with the fecundity of red deer, with bodyweight as a mediator as expected. Besides, we found a negative effect of non-motorized recreation on fecundity and bodyweight and no significant effect of motorized recreation. Our results support the concept of humans as a ‘super predator’ affecting wild animal populations at a population level and plead to regulate recreational activities in protected areas that are sensitive. The fear humans induce in large-bodied herbivores and its consequences for fitness may have strong implications for animal populations and the regeneration, structure and composition of forests and related fauna.
28 Aug 2023Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
17 Oct 2023Assigned to Editor
17 Oct 2023Submission Checks Completed
24 Oct 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned
17 Nov 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
22 Nov 2023Editorial Decision: Revise Minor