A one night stand? Reproductive excursions of female roe deer as a breeding dispersal tactic
Lucie Debeffe et al. (Atle Mysterud) in Oecologia
Lucie Debeffe, Stefano Focardi, Christophe Bonenfant, A. J. Mark Hewison, Nicolas Morellet, Cécile Vanpé, Marco Heurich, Petter Kjellander, John D. C. Linnell, Atle Mysterud, Maryline Pellerin, Pavel Sustr, Ferdinando Urbano, Francesca Cagnacci
Breeding dispersal, defined as the net movement between successive breeding sites, remains a poorly understood and seldom reported phenomenon in mammals, despite its importance for population dynamics and genetics. In large herbivores, females may be more mobile during the breeding season, undertaking short-term trips (excursions) outside their normal home range. If fertilisation occurs, leading to gene flow of the male genome, this behaviour could be considered a form of breeding dispersal from a genetic point of view. Here, we investigated ranging behaviour of 235 adult roe deer using intensive GPS monitoring in six populations across Europe within the EURODEER initiative. We show that excursions are common from June to August among females, with 41.8 % (vs. 18.1 % of males) making at least one excursion. Most individuals performed only one excursion per season and departure dates for females were concentrated in time, centred on the rutting period, suggesting a link with reproduction. The distance females travelled during excursions was significantly greater than the site-specific average diameter of a male home range, while travel speed decreased once they progressed beyond this diameter, indicating search behaviour or interaction with other male(s) outside the resident male’s territory. Because adults are normally highly sedentary, the potential for mating with relatives is substantial; hence, we conclude that rut excursions could be an alternative tactic enabling females to avoid mating with a closely related male. To understand better the ultimate drivers at play, it will be crucial to explore the genetic causes and consequences of this behaviour.