Roe deer – Capreolus capreolus – Corzo

Roe Deer and Wolves: A Shifting Ecological Balance in Guadarrama National Park

The roe deer holds a special place in the Guadarrama National Park, not only for its beauty but also because it serves as a valuable indicator of human activities within the area. It is a living testament to the history of Guadarrama itself. There have been traces of this species dating back to the Middle and Upper Pleistocene in Pinilla del Valle, showcasing its presence in this region even during crucial Pleistocene refuges in the Sierra, which played a pivotal role in the species’ recovery after glacial periods.

Roe deer historically in the Sierra de Guadarrama

During the 17th century, roe deer populations across Europe suffered a significant decline due to deforestation, livestock farming, and intensive hunting. In the early 19th century, Graells was still hunting them throughout the Sierra de Guadarrama. (Mariano de la Paz Graells, a Spanish naturalist and biologist who lived during the 19th century. He was known for his contributions to the field of natural history and was involved in the study of various aspects of Spain’s flora and fauna during his time.)

Later in the century, Madoz only mentions their presence in Somosierra. (Pascual Madoz was a Spanish politician and writer who lived in the 19th century. He is best known for his monumental work, “Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España y sus posesiones de Ultramar,” which translates to “Geographical-Statistical-Historical Dictionary of Spain and its Overseas Territories.” This comprehensive dictionary provided detailed information about various aspects of Spain’s geography, statistics, and history, including information about regions, towns, and their characteristics.)

The 20th century brought further decline for roe deer in Spain, with stable populations remaining only in areas such as the Cantabrian Mountains, the Central System, and the Sierras of Cádiz and Málaga. However, as rural areas were abandoned, firewood consumption decreased, and scrubland regenerated, roe deer benefited and began expanding into areas where they had not been seen before.

Roe deer since the declaration of the Guadarrama national park

Data from the last two decades in the Guadarrama National Park indicate that roe deer populations maintain medium densities, ranging from 3 to 6 individuals per square kilometre. Until recently, the primary limiting factors were the presence of cattle for much of the year and the low-quality habitats, especially in pine forests.

Unexpectedly, the more recent (re) arrival of wolf populations in the Guadarrama National Park has brought a surprising shift in the roe deer population balance. The roe deer has become the primary prey of this top predator, leading to abrupt changes in both its behavior and abundance. Densities have decreased by more than 30% in the most exposed habitats, such as pine forests, as evidenced by the latest spring censuses in 2023. Roe deer have not only reduced their numbers in wolf-occupied areas but have also moved to wolf-free zones on the southern side of the Park, where their populations have remained stable and even increased in some areas.

The best place to see wolves in Spain is in the rolling hills of the Sierra de la Culebra.
The return of the wolf in the Gudarrama national park has changed the behaviour and numbers of the roe deer but surprisingly the roe deer only constitutes 9% of a wolfs diet.
Recent studies show surprising results

Thanks to a collaborative effort between the National Park Research Center and the Zoology Unit of the Autonomous University of Madrid, researchers have been able to study the delicate balance between wild ungulates in the National Park and the wolf population. By analyzing more than 800 wolf excrements, it was discovered that roe deer, which once constituted over 50% of the wolf’s diet, now make up only 9%, with wild boar accounting for 64% of the diet in 2022. This underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy population of wild ungulates in the Park, not only for wolf conservation but also to preserve the delicate trophic balance in this iconic region.

Today, the conservation of roe deer populations is considered a top priority in the National Park. This is especially crucial in the face of the changing dynamics brought about by the presence of multiple prey species, which could have adverse effects if mitigation and adaptation measures are not carefully reconsidered. The cessation of hunting within the National Park and projects aimed at restoring floral diversity are integral components of these measures to safeguard this delicate ecological balance involving such emblematic species of the Sierra de Guadarrama.

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