Brucks, D., Drews, B., Ulbrich, S. E. 2022. Exploring the social network of European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) in captivity. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 246, 105526.
Socially flexible species might be at an advantage when facing environmental unpredictability, human-induced rapid environmental changes, or unnatural conditions such as encountered in captivity. The European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) was originally described as solitarily living forest-dwelling species. In recent decades, it has expanded its range into urban and agricultural areas forming large aggregations in open habitats. Captive environments are thought to mimic some challenges encountered in rapidly changing habitats, however, to date no study has assessed how roe deer social structure changes in captive conditions. In this study, we explored the social network of a small group of captive and unrelated roe deer over the course of a ten-month period using camera traps. We found that the roe deer established a temporally stable and non-random social network with the buck as the most central and dominant individual. In addition, we analysed affiliative interactions, which have not been described in roe deer yet. We found that the affiliation network consisted not only of preferential associations between the buck and other females, but also between females, whereby a young female played a central role. The seasonal changes in roe deer’ gregariousness observed in the wild were also observed in the captive population with an increase in association strength and social interactions in autumn. These results suggest that roe deer kept in a group setting in captivity seem to flexibly adjust their social behaviour; thus, supporting the assumption that roe deer show a high social flexibility that facilitates adaptations to various habitats.