Foraging by roe deer in agricultural areas and impact on arable crops.
The pattern of use of farmland and of different arable crops by roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), in relation to use of other 'natural' habitats available, was assessed for 2 populations of roe in southern Hampshire from April 1983 to March 1985. Use of all crops was highly seasonal with kale and fodder roots used primarily during autumn and early winter, and cereals exploited mainly from March to early June. Even during periods of peak use, root crops and cereal fields (winter and spring wheat, spring barley) rarely supported more than 25% of the population at any time; wooded areas and rides and glades within woodland remained extremely important habitats at all times of year, and only in March-April and October-November did use of woodlands fall below 40% of habitat use overall. Pastures were used extensively during spring and early summer (March-May), but analyses of habitat preference suggest that at no time did roe show positive selection for open agricultural land (pasture or cereals); woodland habitats by contrast showed positive preference throughout the year, and there was a slight selection for fodder root crops in winter. Cereal crops subjected to damage by roe were surveyed, and resultant yield of damaged areas compared with that of control blocks. Damage to cereals was restricted to March, April and May, leaving considerable opportunity for recovery; in no instance was a significant loss of yield at harvest recorded due to roe damage. Results are compared with published data on habitat use, and crop damage caused by deer in the more extensive agrocenoses of Eastern Europe.