Top-down and bottom-up forces explain patch utilization by two deer species and forest recruitment

J.I. Ramirez*, Lourens Poorter, Patrick A. Jansen, Jan den Ouden, Matthias Siewert, Johan Olofsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Ungulates play an important role in temperate systems. Through their feeding behaviour, they can respond to vegetation by selecting patches or modify vegetation composition by herbivory. The degree in which they interact with vegetation can either reinforce landscape heterogeneity by creating disturbance or reduce heterogeneity in case of overbrowsing. This study evaluates how bottom-up (patch quality, structure), top-down forces (hunting, distance to village, forest edge) and deer features (feeding type, abundance) mediate patch utilization in a temperate forest and assess the implications of patch utilization and light on forest recruitment. Theory predicts that animals seek to maximize their energetic gains by food intake while minimizing the costs associated to foraging, such as the energy required for avoiding predators and exploiting resources. We focused on two deer species with contrasting feeding type: a browser (C. capreolus) and a mixed feeder (C. elaphus). We paired camera traps to vegetation sub-plots in ten forest sites in the Netherlands that widely ranged in deer abundance and landscape heterogeneity. Results showed that patch utilization is simultaneously explained by bottom-up, top-down forces and by deer abundance, as predicted by the safety-in-numbers hypothesis. Yet, forces best explaining patch utilization differed between deer species. Overall, higher patch utilization came with higher browsing, lower tree diversity and a large difference in forest composition: from a mix of broadleaves and conifers towards only conifers. We conclude that these two deer species, although living in the same area and belonging to the same guild, differentially perceive, interact with and shape their surrounding landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-240
Issue number1
Early online date24 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Forest composition
  • Forest edge
  • Herbivory
  • Patch dynamics
  • Safety-in-numbers


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