Data from: Coping with strong variations in winter severity: plastic habitat selection of deer at high density
Courbin, Nicolas et al. (2017), Data from: Coping with strong variations in winter severity: plastic habitat selection of deer at high density, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.073gb
Few empirical studies on large herbivores considered how behavioral plasticity could enhance their capacity to cope with rapid and extreme changes in weather conditions at several spatiotemporal scales. During winter, large herbivores living under low predation pressure mainly trade-off benefits of forage acquisition with the costs of exposure to harsh weather conditions. We assessed the changes in this trade-off for white-tailed deer adult females on Anticosti Island (Canada) at different scales during 2 contrasted winters (i.e., a harsher and a milder winter). We hypothesized that deer should adjust their foraging decisions to avoid cold wind-chill temperatures and high locomotion costs in deep snow as winter severity increased. We compared habitat selection at the home-range scale, habitat selection relative to thermal conditions within the home range, and selection for foraging sites relative to snow conditions along the foraging tracks between winters. Home-range selection of deer was similar between winters. Deer adjusted their within-home-range selection relative to thermal conditions: they selected thermal cover during cold-stress periods while their selection for open areas increased during the warmer periods. Deer showed high behavioral plasticity along their foraging tracks: they selected tracks with different forage resources between winters and traded-off the locomotion costs in deep snow cover with the benefits of forage availability as winter severity increased. We discuss how behavioral plasticity of deer in their thermoregulatory behavior and foraging site selection allows them to cope with varying winter conditions, in a system where their short-term behavioral adaptations were already strongly constrained by intraspecific competition.