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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Nutritional niche separation between native roe deer and the nonnative fallow deer-a test of interspecific competition

Rautiainen, Heidi; Bergvall, Ulrika A.; Felton, Annika M.; Tigabu, Mulualem; Kjellander, Petter


On an evolutionary time scale, competition for food drives species formation by genetic adaptations to the environment and subsequent niche separation. On a short-term scale, animals use different strategies to meet their nutritional requirements, which ultimately influence their fitness. Understanding these adaptations in herbivores is especially important in temperate climates where animals have adapted both physiologically and behaviorally to seasonal variations in order to meet their nutritional requirements. The aim of this project was to investigate temporal variation in chemical composition of rumen content between two coexisting species of large herbivores, the native roe deer (Capreolus capreolus L.) and the introduced fallow deer (Dama dama L.), as well as a potential effect of competition on niche separation (interspecific differences in rumen nutrient composition). We analyzed 345 rumen samples collected from animals at one 95 km(2) estate, Koberg, in southwestern Sweden. Based on samples from all seasons, temporal variation in nutrient composition and interspecific differences between the two deer species were investigated under two contrasting fallow deer population densities. Results revealed that nutrient composition varied between species and across seasons. Roe deer had a higher proportion of rumen protein compared to fallow deer, with the highest proportions in spring. In contrast, fallow deer had a higher proportion of rumen hemicellulose compared to roe deer in spring, while no differences in nutrient composition between species could be found in fall. Overall, there were greater differences between the two species when fallow deer density was high and competition likely more pronounced than when fallow deer density was low. The results from this study can be used to understand interspecific competition and how it fosters niche separation between coexisting large herbivores.


Cervidae; Niche separation; Nutritional ecology; Rumen contents

Published in

Mammal Research
2021, Volume: 66, number: 3, pages: 443-455