Mismatch between birth date and vegetation phenology slows the demography of roe deer - Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 Access content directly
Journal Articles PLoS Biology Year : 2014

Mismatch between birth date and vegetation phenology slows the demography of roe deer

T. Coulson
  • Function : Author
A. J. Hewison
  • Function : Author
D. Delorme
  • Function : Author
C. Warnant
  • Function : Author
Floriane Plard
  • Function : Author
  • PersonId : 955902


Marked impacts of climate change on biodiversity have frequently been demonstrated, including temperature-related shifts in phenology and life-history traits. One potential major impact of climate change is the modification of synchronization between the phenology of different trophic levels. High phenotypic plasticity in laying date has allowed many bird species to track the increasingly early springs resulting from recent environmental change, but although changes in the timing of reproduction have been well studied in birds, these questions have only recently been addressed in mammals. To track peak resource availability, large herbivores like roe deer, with a widespread distribution across Europe, should also modify their life-history schedule in response to changes in vegetation phenology over time. In this study, we analysed the influence of climate change on the timing of roe deer births and the consequences for population demography and individual fitness. Our study provides a rare quantification of the demographic costs associated with the failure of a species to modify its phenology in response to a changing world. Given these fitness costs, the lack of response of roe deer birth dates to match the increasingly earlier onset of spring is in stark contrast with the marked phenotypic responses to climate change reported in many other mammals. We suggest that the lack of phenotypic plasticity in birth timing in roe deer is linked to its inability to track environmental cues of variation in resource availability for the timing of parturition. Author Summary Climate change can alter the synchronization of life cycles between organisms at different points in the food chain. If species do not respond to climate change, the timing of peak resource availability may fail to match the timing of peak energy expenditure. Many bird species have been able to advance their laying date to match a change in the timing of caterpillar abundance. Herbivores are similarly expected to track changes in the timing of vegetation growth. In this study, we combine statistical analysis with demographic modeling to analyze the influence of a climate-driven shift in the timing of the spring vegetation flush on the birth date and demography of roe deer. In recent years, climate change has generated a marked increase in local temperatures and a progressively earlier vegetation flush. Despite these changes, we observed no shift in timing of the birth date of roe deer over the 27-year study period. This failure to track environmental change resulted in a mismatch between vegetation flush and birth date, which in turn caused a decrease in survival of the young, and hence a reduction in roe deer fitness. Birth date was under strong directional selection, but was not strongly heritable, suggesting that any evolutionary response of birth date to climate change might be limited. We suggest that a plastic response in birth date did not occur because reproduction is triggered by day length rather than resource availability in roe deer.

Dates and versions

hal-02045105 , version 1 (21-02-2019)



T. Coulson, A. J. Hewison, D. Delorme, C. Warnant, Christophe Bonenfant, et al.. Mismatch between birth date and vegetation phenology slows the demography of roe deer. PLoS Biology, 2014, 12 (4), pp.e1001828. ⟨10.1371/journal.pbio.1001828⟩. ⟨hal-02045105⟩
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