History

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The island of Rum was acquired by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) in 1958. One of the primary purposes of the purchase was to use the island as an outdoor laboratory where it was possible to conduct long-term ecological studies. In particular, it was intended to use Rum for studies of the ecology of red deer, and research on the island’s population started immediately after its purchase and has continued since then. Red deer research on Rum has provided the basis for much of our understanding of the ecology and biology of Scottish red deer populations and has been widely used in the development of management regimes for red deer populations throughout Europe.

 

Since 1958 there have been three major phases of research on red deer on Rum:

 

1) Ecological Research (1958-1972)

Research led by scientists from the NCC and Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (including VPW Lowe, B Mitchell and B Staines) investigated the grazing ecology and population demography of red deer throughout the island. These studies established age-specific patterns of growth, condition, fecundity and survival and assessed the use of different plant communities throughout the year. 

 

2) Research on reproductive physiology (1968-1973)

The deer population in the North Block was used for studies of reproductive behaviour led by RV Short (Cambridge Veterinary School) and the physiology of the antler cycle (GA Lincoln). Subsequent research focused on the reproductive cycle of females (TJ Fletcher) and established systems for the identification and marking of the male and female population in the North Block and for monitoring individual variation in breeding success (FE Guinness).

 

3) Research on behaviour, life histories, population dynamics and evolutionary genetics (1972-present )

Since 1972, research led by Tim Clutton-Brock (Zoology, University of Cambridge) and now Loeske Kruuk and Josephine Pemberton (both Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh) and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Biology and Biotechnology Research Council (BBSRC) has used the North Block deer population on Rum to investigate a wide range of questions concerning behavioural ecology, population dynamics, variation in individual breeding success, natural selection, genetic variation and ageing. By agreement with the Nature Conservancy Council (now ongoing with SNH), the annual cull of the North Block was terminated in 1972 to allow investigation of the population dynamics of naturally regulated populations and to permit the animals to become habituated to close observation. Recognition systems designed by Fiona Guinness have provided a basis for monitoring the life histories of all individual deer regularly using the North Block since 1972. Since 1984, work initiated by Josephine Pemberton has also provided us with genetic information on the deer, with samples collected from over 80% of calves born in the North Block. These are used to investigate paternity success, population and quantitative genetics and inbreeding.

 

Research has involved more than 30 scientists based at Edinburgh, Cambridge, Imperial College London and many other universities and institutes (see people) and has generated over 140 scientific papers and books.

 

For more information on the current themes of research, see Current Research and to learn more about how we study red deer go to Data Collection. More information on the current red deer research team can be found in the People section.