Sex differences in emigration and mortality affect optimal management of deer populations.
Clutton-Brock TH., Coulson TN., Milner-Gulland EJ., Thomson D., Armstrong HM.
Populations of red deer that are limited by food, like those of many other ungulates, commonly include more females than males. We assessed the contribution of variation in sex- and age-specific rates of mortality and emigration to density-dependent changes in the adult sex ratio, using long-term observations and demographic experiments involving the red deer population on Rum, Scotland. We incorporated these effects in a stochastic model of local populations under different management regimes to show here that, when female numbers are allowed to increase to more than 60% of the ecological carrying capacity, the sustainable annual harvest of males from local deer populations will fall. Because males are typically culled by fee-paying hunters and generate more income than females, income will decrease as the male harvest falls. Because numbers of female deer throughout much of the Highlands probably exceed the threshold at which male density starts to be affected, many managers might be able to raise income from local deer populations by reducing female numbers, with potential benefits to the vegetation of Scottish Highland environments.