Animals: Red deer in danger: inbreeding due to habitat restrictions

the animals
Red deer in danger: inbreeding due to habitat restrictions

A red deer standing in a wooded area. Photo: Swen Pförtner / dpa

© dpa-infocom GmbH

Will the red deer die soon in Hesse due to inbreeding? Researchers at the University of Gießen have come up with troubling findings in a study – and they’re calling for more space for tall animals.

The growing road network and urban sprawl are causing the plight of the wild animals in Hesse. Wildlife biologists at the University of Giessen-Liebig in Giessen are currently sounding the alarm about inbreeding problems in red deer: As roads restrict or cut off their habitat, populations are increasingly becoming separated from one another and getting smaller. Resistance to environmental influences and diseases decreases, deformations also result. The state hunting association is already warning that entire populations are collapsing in some areas.

With a shoulder height of 1.50 m and a maximum weight of 250 kg, the adult red deer is the largest domestic land animal. The name derives from its red-brown summer fur, which turns gray-brown in winter. Wildlife biologist Gerald Reiner from Gießen has been working with Hessian red deer for many years: “In a third of the regions in the federal state, we have to be very concerned about the medium-term conservation of this species as healthy populations due to the lack of genetic diversity”, warns the professor . There is little or no exchange between the 20 or so red deer areas in Hesse, since deer in particular cannot migrate from one area to another. One reason for this is that the highway is an almost insurmountable obstacle for animals.

Rainer warns that as inbreeding increases, deer lose the opportunity for evolutionary adaptation. Defective genes that lead to abnormalities, for example, can spread through the population. A wildlife biologist reports that six calves have already been discovered in the state of Hesse that have a short lower jaw. Although animals do not die directly from this genetic handicap, they can develop much worse.

“Deer areas need to be reconnected,” Rainer demands. To do this, the network of wildlife bridges must be expanded so that individual organisms are connected to each other. This may also benefit other animals, such as bats, that cross highways only via green bridges. In addition, migratory deer should be excluded from hunting.

The Hessian State Fishing Association endorses this as well. The decree of 2020, according to which the creation of migration corridors for red deer is allowed, must be implemented as quickly as possible from the point of view of the association. Even now, if an animal moved outside the red deer’s territory, it would practically be released to fire. From a hunters’ perspective, it would make sense to exclude young migratory deer aged three, seven to eight years from hunting – so that they can provide for offspring in other populations and thus introduce their genes.

The association recently sent a similar request to the Hessian State Department of Environment, which endorses scientific support when identifying hiking trails. For this purpose, a “Wildlife Research Center”, which is already an advanced center, must be established, according to the ministry. This will also address the issue of habitat connectivity.

However, experts fear time is running out: “Inbreeding advances with every rut,” says Markus Stifter, a spokesman for the State Fishing Association. In addition, there have long been reports of habitats for many areas of red deer, which have been prepared by the respective conservation communities on a voluntary basis. With the astonishing title “Hesse’s Forests Without Deer,” Stifter has created a film that wants to draw attention to the troubling development. The problem is compounded by the game’s strict shooting regulations in order to protect drought and storm-damaged forest areas from being bitten after reforestation. The spokesperson warns that this would further destroy stocks.

Experts also argue that there is some catching up to do when it comes to land bridges. According to a list released by the HessenMobil Road Authority in 2019, there were a total of five green bridges on highways and federal roads in the state, and three more were in the planning approval process at that time. In addition, there were six bat flight aids that were already available at the time and another five flight aids in planning approval. For comparison: Hesse alone has 3,000 km of federal roads running through it.

dpa

Leave a Comment