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Habitat Use of Sichuan Sika Deer in Forest Bush and Meadows in the Tiebu Nature Reserve Sichuan China.

Byline: Cheng Zhao Jie Hu Yanhong Li Jianghong Ran Jinke Guan Chengzhong Yang Yuanqing Xiong and Bisong Yue

Abstract

Sichuan sika deer Cervus nippon sichuanicus is a threatened subspecies of sika deer distributed in the northern Minshan mountains on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Compared with other subspecies Sichuan sika deer lives in a special environment which is composed of a mosaic of forest bush and meadow located between plateau meadows and alpine valleys. In order to get strategic information about the relationship of Sichuan sika deer and the environment we conducted our study on habitat use of Sichuan sika deer in the Tiebu Nature Reserve from March to November 2011. Generalized Linear Mixed Models and an information-theoretic approach were used in our data analysis. Our results indicated that all three types of vegetation were necessary for Sichuan sika deer. In forest Sichuan sika deer preferred the sites with a high density of herbs. In bush Sichuan sika deer's occurrence was significantly correlated with greater distances from habitations and shorter distances to water.

In meadows Sichuan sika deer preferred the sites with gradual slopes and proximity to water. Water and disturbance could be treated as key factors that influence the habitat use of Sichuan sika deer in meadow and bush habitat. Food availability may affect the habitat use of Sichuan sika deer in forest and bush. Thus protecting all three vegetation types is one of the important objectives for the conservation of the endangered Sichuan sika deer. Building some wooden water tanks in meadows and bush and controlling areas of human and livestock activity could increase the suitability of areas Sichuan sika deer need.

Keywords: Habitat use key factor protection Sichuan sika deer Tiebu Nature Reserve

INTRODUCTION

Sichuan sika deer Cervus nippon sichuanicus is a subspecies of sika deer Cervus nippon which was described by Guo et al. (1978). It belongs to the Cervinae Cervidae Artiodactyla (Corbet and Hill 1991). The wild populations of Sichuan sika deer are threatened and some populations have already disappeared (Guo 2000; Guo and Zheng 2000). Accordingly it is classified as a Category I Protected Wild Animal Species in China and listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Subspecies (Smith and Xie

2009). At present the Sichuan sika deer is distributed in only three isolated areas: the Tiebu region (10246'-10314 E' 3358'-3416') the Baxi region (10308'-10335'E 3333'-3346'N) and the Baihe region (10359'-10410'E 3305'-3320'N) which are all located in the northern Minshan mountains of the eastern Tibetan Plateau (Guo

2000). Given that the Sichuan sika deer is rare in the wild with only about 850 individuals in total in China (Guo 2000) a wise protection program is necessary and urgent.

Successfully protecting a rare species depends on understanding the interactions between the organism and its environment. A wise protection plan requires strategic information on the biological needs of the species or subspecies of concern (Wong et al. 2004) of which knowledge on habitat use is

essential to understand its ecological requirements (Zhang et al. 2009; Nadeem et al. 2013). There have been many studies of habitat use of other subspecies of sika deer. In Jiangxi Province China previous research reported that sika deer prefer habitat with abundant food close to water and far from human disturbance (Yang et al. 2002; Fu et al. 2006ab). The key factors affecting sika deer habitat use in Japan include human activity (Kamei

2010) distance to forest edge (Takatsuki 1989;

Tsukada et al. 2009) snow depth (Kaji et al.

2000) and vegetation cover (Sakuragi et al. 2003). However research about the Sichuan sika deer has been mainly focused on morphology (Guo et al.

1978) distribution (Guo 2000; Guo and Zhen 2000) behaviour (Guo et al. 1991; Guo 2003; Liu et al. 2004; Qi et al. 2010; Yang et al. 2012) and food habits (Guo 2001 2002) but only Guo (2000;

2001; 2003) focuses on some aspects of habitat. As the geographic range of each subspecies includes various local environments habitat use must necessarily differ accordingly. Thus since the Sichuan sika deer is distributed in a special area located between plateau meadows and alpine valleys in the eastern Tibetan Plateau a research focus on the habitat use of the Sichuan sika deer is required.

Many studies have developed models to identify key environmental factors that affect species' habitat use (Guisan and Thuiller 2005; Hortal et al. 2006). For wild species the key environmental factors are diverse and vary spatially and temporally over different seasons (Sakuragi et al. 2003; Marshal et al. 2006; Ciarniello et al.

2007; Chen et al. 2012; Zhao et al. 2012; Zhao et al. 2014). In a complex environment when animals choose a habitat they have to consider many factors such as food quality and availability shelter environmental conditions and threats from potential predators (Sih 1980; Werner et al. 1983). However each vegetation type may not always contain an adequate mixture of those factors (Orians and Wittenberger 1991). In our study area the environment is mainly composed of three vegetation types--forest bush and meadow"which Guo (2000) determined were three vegetation types that the Sichuan sika deer needed. Forest and bush may be treated primarily as habitat for concealment; while shrub grassland may be treated primarily as a food

patch (Guo 2000). Thus the key factors influencing deer's selection of habitat patches within different vegetation types are likely to differ. Finding out the key factors in the three vegetation types could provide information about how different habitat patches are used within different vegetation types and could help us to give suggestions for the protection and management of these vegetation types to maximize their value as Sichuan sika deer habitat.

So to get more information about the Sichuan sika deer's relationship with the three vegetation types we carried out our fieldwork on microhabitat use by Sichuan sika deer in each of those three vegetation types in the Tiebu Nature Reserve. The main objectives of our study were (1) to understand Sichuan sika deer habitat use across the three vegetation types (2) to find out the key factors which affect habitat use of Sichuan sika deer in these different vegetation types and (3) to provide suggestions for protection and management based on the key factors in the different vegetation types.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study area

Fieldwork was carried out in the Tiebu Nature Reserve Ruo'ergai County Sichuan Province China (3402'-3412'N 10258'-10311'E) (Fig.1) where elevation ranges from 2450m to 3800m above sea level. The reserve is located in the dry valley of the Bailong River. The annual precipitation is around 650mm with ninety percent of the rainfall occurring in the wet season from April to October. Mean annual temperature in the study area is 6.7C with the extreme low recorded of -18.9. The

Tiebu Nature Reserve covers about 260 km2. The study site was in a mosaic of forest bush and meadow with forest occurring mainly on shady slopes and bush occurring mainly in sunny slopes. The dominant plants in forest were Pinus tabulaeformis Picea spp Abies spp. Betula platyphylla Fargesia nitida Rhododendron spp. Lonicera spp. and Ribes spp. The dominant plants in bush are Berberis spp. Hippophae rhamnoides Caragana spp. Cotoneaster spp. Ajania spp. and Bothriochloa ischaemum. The dominant plants in

Rhododendron spp. Cotoneaster spp. Spiraea spp. Gramineae spp. Carex spp. and Kobresia spp. There are several thousand people living in this reserve more than ninety percent are Tibetan and most of them are herdsmen and farmers. More than

5000 livestock (mainly cattle and goats) graze within the reserve.

Sampling method and variable design

Dueser and Shugart (1978) created a detailed sampling technique for small mammals combining plots of various sizes and shapes as well as small transects which later proved to be applicable for most terrestrial vertebrates (Morrison et al. 1992; Morrison 2002).

As far as was permitted by the nature of the terrain in our study area we established transects along altitudinal gradients ensuring that each transect sampled the representative vegetation types.

Vegetation sampling plots were centred on signs of sika deer (sightings of deer faeces and physical remains (skin bones or corpse)) along transects with an average distance not less than 100m between them. Sampling plots centred on deer sign were termed habitat use plots". Control plots were established at every 100 m change in elevation along transects. Since the local environment is mainly composed of three vegetation types (forest bush and meadow) which have already been reported as important to Sichuan sika deer (Guo

2000) numerous vegetation sampling plots (habitat use plots and control plots) were established in all three vegetation types along these transects.

After each sampling point location was established the vegetation type was determined then following the method of Dueser and Shugart (1978) a sampling plot consisting of three independent sampling units with associated subplots was established and centred on the point location of deer sign or point location of control plots (Fig. 2): one 20mA-20m (400m2) plot was centred on the location and subdivided into four equal 100m2 square subplots. Five 1m2 herbage subplots were placed with one centred on the point location and four distributed at the centre of each of the 100m2 subplots. The two 20 m2 rectangular subplots (2 mA-10 m) were both centred on the point location and placed perpendicular to each other as shown in Figure 2 (Wei et al. 2000). Within each sampling plot seventeen vegetation and physical location variables were measured with various subplots as defined and described in Table I.

We sampled a total of 292 plots from March to November 2011: 121 plots in forest (66 habitat use plots 55 control plots) 82 plots in bush (44 habitat use plots 38 control plots) and 89 plots in meadow (48 habitat

use plots 41control plots).

Data analyses

In order to understand differences between habitat use plots and control plots in the three vegetation types we conducted independent sample T tests and MannWhitney U tests to compare variables between habitat use plots and control plots within each vegetation type. Assuming that the deer

Table I.- Description and definition of 17 variables calculated in the microhabitat sampling plots.

Variable###Definition and description

EL Elevation###The elevation measured at the centre of the 400 m2

(m)###plot

SL Slope###Five grades including less than 15 15-less than 30 30-less than 45 45-

###less than 60 and 60

SA Slope###Aspect of each 400m2 plot defined by nine

aspect###categories: northern slope (337.5-22.5) northeastern

###slope (22.5-67.5) eastern slope (67.5-112.5)

###southeastern slope (112.5-157.5) southern slope

###(157.5-202.5) southwestern slope (202.5-247.5)

###western slope (247.5-292.5) northwestern slope

###(292.5-337.5) and no slope aspect (i.e. the plot is

###on flat land)

CC###Mean greatest distance with clear line of sight

Concealing###looking eastward southward westward and

condition###northward at a height of 1.0m at the centre of the 400

###m2 plot four categories: less than 10m 10-less than 20m 20m-

###less than 40m and 40m

TC Tree###Percent tree canopy cover through looking up from

canopy cover###the centre of the 400 m2 plot four categories: less than 25%

###25%-less than 50% 50%-less than 75% 75%

TD Tree

###Number of trees in 400 m2 plot

density

TH Tree###Average height of trees in 400 m2 plot defined by six

height (m)###categories: less than 10m 10-less than 15m 15-less than 20m 20-less than 25m 25-

###less than 30m and 30m

DBH Tree

diameter at###Average diameter at breast height (DBH) of the trees

breast height###in 400 m2 plot

(cm)

SC Shrub###Average percent shrub cover in two 20 m2 rectangular

cover (%)###subplots four categories: less than 25% 25%-less than 50% 50%-

###less than 75%75%

SD Shrub###Average number of shrubs in two 20 m2 rectangular

density###subplots

SH Shrub###Average height of shrubs in two 20 m2 rectangular

height (m)###subplots defined by five categories: 0-less than 1m 1-less than 2m

###2-less than 3m 3-less than 4m 4m.

HC Herb###Average percent herb cover in five 1.0 m2 subplots

cover (%)###four categories: less than 25% 25%-50% 50%-75%greater than 75%

HH Herb###Average height of herb in five 1.0 m2 subplots

height (cm)###divided into five categories: less than 25cm 25-less than 50cm 50-

###less than 75cm 75-less than 100cm 100cm

DW Distance###Measure straight-line distance from the sampling plot

to water###centre to the nearest water source; five categories:

source (m)###less than 200m 200-less than 400m 400-less than 600m 600-less than 800m and

###800m

DF Distance###Measure straight-line distance from the sampling plot

to forest edge###centre to the nearest forest edge divide into five

(m)###categories: less than 150m 150-less than 300m 300-less than 450m 450-

###less than 600m 600m

DR Distance###Measure straight-line distance from the sampling plot

from roads (m)###centre to the nearest road divide into five categories:

###less than 200m 200-less than 400m 400-less than 600m 600-less than 800m

###800m

DH Distance###Measure straight-line distance from the sampling plot

from###centre to the nearest residential area five categories:

habitations###less than 200m 200-less than 400m 400-less than 600m 600-less than 800m

(m)###800m

sign plots represented samples of habitat use by the sika deer within each vegetation type we modeled habitat use and control plot variables with binomial GLMMs (logit-link). Since some environmental factors show dramatic changes from Match to November and only a part of area were established transects we included date" and location" as random effects to take into account. We used an information-theoretic approach (Burnham and Anderson 2002) to determine the suite of factors that influence habitat use of Sichuan sika deer. Correlation analysis was first conducted to test independence between variables. For those variables with a correlation coefficient above 0.5 we only kept the variable with clear biological meaning in the subsequent analysis in order to reduce multi- collinearity (Zhang et al. 2011; Torres et al. 2012). Afterwards we chose a priori 20 candidate models for each vegetation type.

Inclusion of variables in the candidate set of models was based on field knowledge and published research on sika deer habitat use (Takatsuki et al. 1989; Takatsuki 1992; Guo 2000; Yang et al. 2002; Sakuragi et al. 2003; Fu et al. 2006a b). We calculated the Akaike information criterion (AIC) to evaluate model fit to find out the best habitat use model for each of the three vegetation types. All analyses conducted using R software.

RESULTS

Independent sample T tests and Mann Whitney U tests gave essentially the same results (Table II). In the forest only two variables herb height and herb cover showed significant differences between habitat use plots and control plots. In the bush six variables viz. distance to water concealing condition shrub height shrub cover herb cover and distance from habitations showed significant differences between use plots and control plots. In the meadow four variables viz. slope distance to forest edge distance to water and herb cover showed significant differences between use plots and control plots.

The best model of habitat use by Sichuan sika deer in forest included two variables--tree density and herb cover; however only herb cover was common to all the top ten models (Table III). The

best model of habitat use in bush included three variables: distance to water distance from habitations and herb cover (Table IV). The best model for habitat use in meadow included three variables-- slope distance to water and distance to roads; while distance to water was the only factor common to the top ten models (Table V).

In forest Sichuan sika deer occurrence (as indicated by deer sign) was significantly correlated with greater tree density and greater herb cover (Table VI). In bush habitat Sichuan sika deer occurrence was significantly correlated with greater distances from habitations and shorter distances to water as well as correlated with greater herb cover (Table VI). In meadow Sichuan sika deer occurrence was significantly correlated with more moderate slopes shorter distances to water and greater distances from roads (Table VI).

DISCUSSION

Habitat use in forest Forest especially denser forest (i.e. high tree density) may reduce exposure to adverse climatic conditions and therefore may serve the deer primarily as a habitat for protection from inclement weather and also as a safe resting place concealed from potential human intruders and from some predators (Ager et al. 2003; Mysterud and Astbye 1999). Tree density showed a significant correlation in the final model of our results which indicated that Sichuan sika deer use forest sites with a higher density of trees than control plots. The lack of a significant difference between use plots and control plots may indicate that the local forest in the reserve has a suitable tree density for Sichuan sika deer. In addition herb cover also showed significant correlation in forest habitat use for the Sichuan sika deer and was higher in use plots than control plots.

This strongly suggests that while forest offers relatively little food compared to meadows the deer still choose to be in forest sites with higher herb cover which is likely associated with higher levels of food. This phenomenon may represent a trade-off between food needs and safety needs or a strategic optimal selection of sites which meet minimum safety needs as well as offering some food. In the ideal case a habitat which provides both high levels

Table II.- Comparison of each variable (MeanSD) between habitat use and control plots in the three vegetation types..

Variable###Forest###Bush###Meadow

###Habitat use###Control###Habitat use###Control###Habitat use###Control

EL###2759(148)###2776(137)###2741(165)###2794 (196)###2795 (192)###2869(232)

SL###3.17(1.25)###3.36(1.56)###2.91(2.03)###3.33(1.49)###2.04(1.36)###2.98(1.65)

SA###4.09(2.71)###3.84(2.97)###5.36(2.03)###5.33(2.02)###4.88(2.21)###5.49(2.34)

CC###2.56(1.07)###2.22(1.05)###3.05(0.95)###2.56(0.70)###1.33(0.47)###1.27(0.44)

TC###2.20(0.81)###2.05(0.97)

TD###13.00(6.81)###11.24(4.77)

TH###3.91(1.29)###4.16(1.24)

DBH###29.17(12.99)###28.36(11.18)

SC###1.58(0.70)###1.73(0.80)###2.97(0.83)###2.39(0.50)

SD###4.02(1.84)###3.71(2.19)###7.02(2.26)###6.00(2.24)

SH###2.38(0.87)###2.29(0.92)###2.61(0.76)###2.17(0.92)

HC###2.70(0.96)###2.18(0.96)###3.30(0.68)###2.67(1.18)###3.67(0.75)###3.27(1.07)

HH###1.45(0.64)###1.20(0.45)###1.38(0.48)###1.28(0.46)###1.23(0.51)###1.27(0.54)

DW###1.48(0.77)###1.47(0.86)###1.53(0.83)###2.61(1.14)###1.42(0.57)###1.95(1.09)

DF###1.42(0.61)###1.88(1.10)

DR###3.86(1.55)###3.49(1.70)###3.38(1.69)###3.44(1.75)###3.58(1.49)###3.32(1.78)

DH###4.11(1.08)###3.84(1.51)###4.03(1.00)###3.06(1.66)###3.85(1.32)###3.66(1.54)

Table III.- Summary of the top 10 GLMM model sets predicting the presence of Sichuan sika deer in forest.

Model###K###AIC###AIC

HC+TD###2###-173.772###0

HC+CC+TD###3###-173.244###0.528682

HC+CC###2###173.204###0.568604

HC###1###-173.193###0.57903

HC+TD+EL###3###-173.02###0.752086

HC+EL###2###-172.651###1.121417

HC+CC+TD+EL###4###-172.552###1.22022

HC+CC+DR###3###-172.486###1.286578

HC+TD+DH###3###-172.406###1.366549

HC+TD+DR###3###-172.357###1.415394

of food and safety may be best but in this case the herb biomass in forest is far less than meadow (Takatsuki 1989 1992). Thus we hypothesize that Sichuan sika deer prefer forest with relatively high tree densities and higher herb cover to reduce the energetic cost of time spent hiding in the forest or to

Table IV.- Summary of the top 10 GLMM model sets predicting the presence of Sichuan sika deer in bush.

Model###K###AIC###AIC

DW+DH+HC###3###-184.902###0

DW+DH+HC+SH###4###-184.806###0.096523

DW+DH+HC+SD###4###-183.726###1.175979

DW+DH+HC+CC###4###-183.705###1.197211

DW+DH+HC+SA###4###-183.419###1.483313

DW+DH+HC+HH###4###-183.071###1.831644

DW+DH+HC+SH+CC###5###-182.957###1.945768

DW+DH+HC+SL###4###-182.934###1.96846

DW+DH+HC+DR###4###-182.923###1.978974

DW+DH+HC+SH+SL###5###-182.806###2.096523

reduce overall risk by reducing the foraging time in meadow needed to satisfy their energetic needs. The difference between those two options depends on whether the deer are expected to maximize net energetic gain or to minimize risk. It is this difference which may explain where they are most likely to spend their time. However such hypotheses require additional behavioural and energetic evidence. The results of this study provide a greater appreciation of a number of aspects of vegetation use and the patterns of habitat use and thus raise interesting new questions and critical hypotheses which can lead to a deeper understanding of what the Sichuan sika deer need and how they respond to variable features of their environment to meet their needs.

Table V.- Summary of the top 10 GLMM model sets predicting the presence of Sichuan sika deer in meadow.

Model###K###AIC###AIC

DW+SL+DR###3###-138.587###0

DW+SL+DR+DF###4###-137.989###0.597655

DW+SL+HC+DR###4###-137.097###1.489761

DW+SL+DR+HC+HH###5###-136.885###1.701843

DW+SL+DR+DF+HC###5###-136.338###2.248883

DW+SL+DR+HC+HH+DF###6###-136.017###2.570597

DW+SL+DR+HC+HH+DF+SA###7###-134.233###4.354512

DW+SL+HC###3###-133.247###5.339687

DW+DR+DF###3###-133.213###5.373906

DW+DR+HC###3###-132.561###6.026423

Table VI.- Estimated coefficients and standard errors for the variable in the best models of habitat use in the three vegetation types.

Variable###Forest###Bush###Meadow

Intercept###-1.901###-1.057###0.923

###0.695###0.968###0.527

Slope###-0.432

###0.133

Tree density###0.055

###0.024

Herb cover###0.564###0.737

###0.169###0.507

Distance to Water###-1.700###-1.086

###0.385###0.369

Distance from roads###0.588

###0.213

Distance from habitations###0.977

###0.326

Habitat use in meadow

Meadow habitat appears to be the main food patch for Sichuan sika deer. Our research indicated Sichuan sika deer prefer meadow on gradual slopes which not only contain a high density of herbs which we assume equates to abundant food but also provide a clear view of the surrounding area which allows the deer to detect the approach of potential danger at a distance great enough to ensure time to withdraw to safe hiding places. Distance from a water source appears to be a key factor which influences the deer's choices of which meadow areas to use which says that only meadows relatively close to a water source are seen as meadow habitat" by the deer. This interpretation accords with the study by Guo (2000) who reported that meadows with a long distance to water were seldom used by Sichuan sika deer. Although distance from roads was contained in the final best model of meadow use by Sichuan sika deer the difference between used and control plots in meadow was not significant.

Two reasons may lead to this situation. First while Sichuan sika deer may often avoid foraging near roads in the daytime they may feel safer foraging in meadow close to roads at

night (Guo 2003) when they are less likely to be seen by people. Second in our field work we sometimes observed clusters of Sichuan sika deer feeding in meadow close to roads in daytime. An individual deer foraging close to a source of danger

such as roads must spend more time watching for threats and less time feeding; however if a group of deer forage together in such a situation more eyes watching for threats can give each deer more time to feed while also reducing their risk and may also

lower their stress (the increased safety of foraging in groups is well known e.g. Bertram 1978).

Meadow sites which have high forage value but which are close to roads are inherently more risky than similar sites far from roads. But if previous foraging has reduced the return on safer sites the

foraging value of these risky sites may increase in relative value to the deer. By foraging at night and/or in groups the deer can reduce risk enough to allow them to use the high forage but risky sites. The deer's use of such risky meadow sites shows that microhabitats should not be seen as having fixed variables but rather that the deer alter their use of different sites within a vegetation type in response to changes in the relative benefits and risks of different sites which may change according to conditions which depend on site variables and on the demographics and perceptions of the deer themselves.

It is well known that a single vegetation type may not contain an adequate mixture of factors needed (Orians and Wittenberger 1991). Therefore deer which depend on forest for protective cover and open areas like meadows for food may select feeding sites in meadows that are near to forest cover (Williamson and Hirth 1985; Tufto et al.

1996). It has been reported that Japanese sika deer don't dare to use meadow more than 200m away from forest (Takatsuki 1989; Tsukada 2009). However during our field work we often found Sichuan sika deer using areas in meadows farther than 200m away from forest. Despite the fact that distance to forest edge was significantly smaller in use plots than control plots (Table II) in our results distance to forest edge (DF) was not included in the final best model of meadow habitat use (Table V). These different responses of Sichuan sika deer feeding in sites farther away from forest cover must be seen within the interactions among key factors in adjacent vegetation types.

For example the Sichuan sika deer may feed farther away from forest cover in response to special local environmental situations such as where a big bush patch on a sunny slope in the meadow provided hiding cover for the deer. Or the deer feeding in a meadow farther from forest cover in the case where the risk of being in the open may be mitigated by the deer having longer clear views so that any potential threats can be detected at a greater distance.

Habitat use in bush

In bush habitat proximity to water and distance from habitations were the key factors. This result is the same with research in Jiangxi (Yang et al. 2002; Fu et al. 2006a b). In our study area bush vegetation is mainly located on sunny slopes with water sources being further away than on shady slopes. Bush vegetation close to habitations was treated as a firewood resource and was heavily used by local people. Thus Sichuan sika deer avoided using bush vegetation near habitations. Previous studies reported that vertical cover and lateral cover (in our study area forest could be treated as vertical cover and bush could be treated as lateral cover)

have different functions for ungulates. Lateral cover decreases predation risk by reducing prey detectability (Tufto et al. 1996). This explains why Sichuan sika deer use bush with higher shrubs and denser shrub cover (Table II) as these environments provide better concealing conditions which is also supported in our results (Table II).

Large areas of bush vegetation as a special environment for forest edge animals have particular value for Sichuan sika deer. Bush vegetation can be treated as a secondary food patch for Sichuan sika deer since they have been recorded feeding on 65 kinds of shrubs as well as 134 kinds of herbs and 13 kinds of trees (Guo 2001). Thus bush vegetation serves these sika deer both as a source of food as well as providing protection against predators and humans. Guo (2002) claimed that food availability is a key factor limiting the population of Sichuan sika deer. Thus in our study area large areas of bush are likely to contribute to support higher densities of Sichuan sika deer.

If we change these bush patches into forest the food availability would be reduced. On the other hand if we change these bush areas into big pastures not all of the meadow pastures will serve as suitable food sources for the deer since some areas of large pastures will be too far from forest (or large bush patches) to satisfy the deer's need for safety in nearby dense habitat. So these big bush patches may be a valuable and even necessary component of a healthy habitat mix for Sichuan sika deer that includes forest meadow and bush vegetation types. The observations of this study as well as those of Guo (2002) show that the deer regularly use some portions of all three vegetation types which strongly suggest that a pattern of mixed use of all three vegetation types is what constitutes the overall best habitat" as selected by the deer.

What we were able to discover about the sika deer's habitat was in the context of the study site in the Tiebu Nature Reserve and limited to one eight-month period from spring to fall. Study of how the sika deer habitat use changes during winter is needed for a more complete picture of their habitat needs over the entire year. And further study and monitoring of year to year variation in habitat use would not only be very interesting but valuable for developing an effective long-term conservation management plan.

Protection and management suggestion

Based on the research of Guo (2000) and the findings from our study we confirm that forest bush and meadow all contribute in significant ways to make up the overall habitat required by Sichuan sika deer. Our research showed that the key use factors differ in each vegetation type. So these three vegetation types should be protected to maintain the habitat which sustains these special and endangered deer. Therefore a conservation plan for the Sichuan sika deer should provide methods necessary to protect and manage these three habitat types in an appropriate spatial mixture to which the deer respond to best.

For example in meadow and bush habitat water could be treated as the most important limiting factor affecting the habitat use of Sichuan sika deer. In field research we found that sika deer used the water in wooden water tanks which had been built by farmers for use by livestock grazing in meadow areas. Thus building some wooden water tanks in bush and meadow areas could possibly increase the areas of use by Sichuan sika deer.

Of even greater concern human presence and activities such as cutting firewood in forest and grazing livestock in meadows can have significant direct and indirect effects on the temporal and spatial pattern of use of the three vegetation types by Sichuan sika deer; therefore some control over the types and intensity of human activities in these vegetation types is necessary. In particular food availability has a significant influence on the population of Sichuan sika deer (Guo 2002). Increasing numbers of livestock is very likely to alter and possibly damage the meadows which will decrease the food sources needed to maintain the sika deer population in this area. To maintain the environment and natural vegetation in the Tiebu Nature Reserve controlling the livestock population and where they graze is necessary but may be difficult to do. With increasing economic development in the area the local environment is changing.

Land reclamation will lead to further loss of meadow and bush cutting firewood will continue to alter deer habitat in forest and bush and road building will increase the extent of local disturbance. So how to maintain the present

environment becomes an even more important challenge.

Animal conservation is a long term continuous effort which requires more information about the environment and animals of concern like the Sichuan sika deer. Therefore scientific field work in the places where these animals live and where they are increasingly threatened must continue if we are to have any hope to save these special animals which are a unique part of the natural legacy of China.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This study was supported by the Sichuan Provincial Science and Technology Department (2008JY0157) Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation (Ministry of Education) Open Fund (XNYB09-01) National Science and Technology Support Project of china (2012BAC01B06) and Research Program of China (973 Project: 2011CB111503). The authors thank Forestry Protection Department Office of Sichuan Province Ruoergai Forestry Bureau and Management Office of Tiebu Nature Reserve.

Conflict of interest declaration We declare that the article (Habitat use of Sichuan sika deer in forest bush and meadows in the Tiebu Nature Reserve Sichuan China) has not been submitted nor it will be submitted to any other Journal.

Cheng Zhao Jie Hu Yanhong Li Janghong Ran Jinke Guan Chengzhong Yang Yuanqing Xiong and Bisong Yue.

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Author:Cheng Zhao; Jie Hu; Yanhong Li; Jianghong Ran; Jinke Guan; Chengzhong Yang; Yuanqing Xiong; Bisong Y
Publication:Pakistan Journal of Zoology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Aug 31, 2014
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