Temporal and spatial development of red deer harvesting in Europe: biological and cultural factors.

Published online
11 Oct 2006
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Milner, J. M. & Bonenfant, C. & Mysterud, A. & Gaillard, J. M. & Csányi, S. & Stenseth, N. C.
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Publication language
UK & Austria & Denmark & France & Germany & Hungary & Nordic Countries & Norway & Poland & Scotland & Slovenia & Sweden & Switzerland


Deer numbers have increased dramatically throughout Europe and North America over the last century, but empirical analyses of variation in harvesting and the influence of biological and cultural factors are lacking. We examined trends in size and composition of red deer Cervus elaphus harvests over the last three to four decades in 11 European countries with contrasting deer productivity, management strategies and hunting traditions. The harvest increased exponentially in all countries except Austria and Germany, where it was stable, and Poland, where it has declined in recent years. Harvest growth rates ranged from 0.009 in Austria to 0.075 in Sweden and depended on the management system and harvest composition, being negatively related to the proportion of females in the adult harvest. Within four focal countries (France, Hungary, Norway and Scotland), there was considerable spatial variation in harvest growth rates. These tended to be higher in recently colonized areas than in traditional hunting areas and were often higher than the maximum possible population growth rate. Range expansion was an important component of the increase in total harvest in France and Scotland, but not in Hungary or Norway. Harvest composition was available for seven countries, all of which showed a strong increase in the proportion of calves in the harvest. The sex ratio of the adult harvest was relatively stable, being strongly male-biased in Norway and marginally female-biased elsewhere. The proportion of males in the harvest was unrelated to trophy hunting objectives. Synthesis and applications. Our study emphasizes that cultural aspects of management need to be accounted for, as well as biological factors, when interpreting the patterns of harvest growth and composition across Europe. Widespread sustained harvest growth has occurred, suggesting continued growth of deer populations with consequent social and economic impacts. Population control is therefore a major challenge for the future, currently hampered by inadequate population data and a decreasing number of hunters in some countries. Increasing the motivation of hunters to harvest female deer is one possible solution, although this may conflict with hunting traditions and economic considerations in some areas.

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