The Kilmory red deer research project has been running in its present form from 1972 to the present day. The key to the research project is the individual recognition of deer. Natural markings and artificial tags put in place when deer are captured make every deer in the study population distinguishable and allow us to monitor the behaviour, movement and reproduction of individual deer from birth through to death. Our database currently contains information for over 4300 individually recognisable red deer observed in the Kilmory study area since 1972.
A full-time field researcher based at Kilmory monitors the population. Their key data collection activities include:
1) Year-round study area censuses. These are conducted at least five times a month and involve noting the identities, location and behaviour of individuals in all groups of deer seen on a set route around the study area.
2) Calving season. During the calving season (late May through June; see The Deer Year) a team of volunteers, coordinated by the field researcher, conducts daily censuses of the Kilmory population to keep track of when females give birth, and to allow capture of calves within the first few days of birth. Captured calves are marked, sampled (for genetic analysis), measured and released. We usually capture around 80% of calves born in a given year in the study area.
3) Rut censusing. Mid-September to mid-November is the red deer mating season. During this period, adult males compete for harems of females (see The Deer Year). Daily rut censuses are carried out across these two months. The identities of the females in each male’s harem are recorded, the outcome of fights and challenges between males are monitored and matings are recorded. Behavioural information recorded during this period is important for investigating which males sired calves, and from that constructing the pedigree.
4) Mortality searching. During the winter months, mortality searches are conducted to locate the bodies of missing study animals.Post-mortems are performed in the field on those that are found and jaw and leg bones are taken for measurement. Tissue samples are taken to expand the genetic dataset with those deer that were not caught as a calf, or to determine identity when this is not clear.
Photo Credits: Martyn Baker