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Herbivorous ungulates act as a driving force
for diversifying vegetation and maintaining feedback in plant communities (Augustine
and McNaughton, 1998). The cycling of elements in a community between
producers, consumers and decomposers is critical in maintaining stability in an
ecosystem. Plant-herbivore relations affect nutrient cycling as palatability,
growth rates and decomposition rates are related. Nutrient cycling is
accelerated through ungulates depositing faecal matter in a highly decomposable
form available for uptake by microbes and plants (Hobbs, 1996).

 

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are a large ruminant species of the Cervidae family
commonly found in purely deciduous forests, mixed coniferous woodland, and pure
coniferous forests. They have populated much of Europe for approximately the
last 400,000 years, with geographical distribution extending to the Middle East
and Africa. Within Britain the majority of wild populations reside in the Scottish
highlands (Whitehead, 1960), with smaller populations active in deer forests
and semi-natural ecosystems within England. Red deer are classified as an
intermediate feeder, feeding opportunistically on a mixed diet of grasses and
concentrate food items as browse, forbs and fruits (Hoffmann, 1989).

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Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium are
macronutrients that play a vital
role in plant productivity and microbial functioning. Nitrogen is useful for a variety of functions such as formation of
amino acids, plant cell division, and is directly involved in photosynthesis. Faecal Nitrogen (FN) is therefore an
indicator of diet quality in red deer. Both nitrogen and phosphorous are
directly involved with photosynthesis, and so it is clear that these nutrients
are critical for the overall health of a plant. Plants are abundant in carbon,
which is consumed by deer for use in processes such as cell function and
repair, amongst many others. Carbon is then released via respiration and
excretion for re-consumption by plants and microbes. Higher nutrient availability
in plants leads to higher returns within the cycle, as higher nutrient returns
and faster mineralisation will occur.  

 

The aim of this study is to assess
nutrient cycling in samples of deer faeces and plant material. Ungulates provide
good ecological indicators of assessing land quality and investigating nutrient
cycling, and so C.Elaphus were
selected an appropriate species for this experiment (Hanley, 1996). 

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