Determinants of Migratory Plasticity in Ungulates

Project Objectives

DolomitesThis collaborative research project focuses on explaining plasticity in migration, such as partial migration, in ungulates. The project addresses several questions at different scales from the individual animal to the population and species level. Field work is focused on Roe deer and Red deer in the Italian Dolomites (see photo at right), but also through Europe and eventually, as many migratory ungulate species as possible. 

Animal migrations are one of nature’s most fascinating spectacles. They affect the temporal distribution and abundance of populations through individual movements and thereby impact trophic interactions. Adaptive flexibility in migratory behavior is common in ungulates and can influence the proportion of migrants in a population (partial migration) or lead to differences in e.g. the timing, the speed or the distance of migration. This project focuses on several aspects of variation in migratory behavior in ungulates and their determinants. At the smallest scale, within one population, we focus on roe deer in a mountainous study area in the Dolomites, Italy. Among other objectives, we aim to assess forage differences for individual roe deer with different migratory tactics and understand multi-scale trade-offs of partial migration. Further, to derive generalizations between population and different ungulate species we will conduct comparisons of migratory behavior of the same species (e.g. roe deer) in different ecosystems (i.e., across Europe) and different ungulate species (e.g. red deer/elk, reindeer/caribou, roe deer) in the same ecosystem.

This PhD project is led by student Wibke Peters who is co-advised by Dr. Mark Hebblewhite of the University of Montana and Dr. Francesca Cagnacci of the Fondazione Edmund Mach, Italy. Field and animal movement data collected as part of a comprehensive research project on spatial behavior of roe and red deer in the autonomous province of Trentino, Italy, will be complemented by data assembled within the EURODEER collaborative initiative and other projects upon project proposal approval. 

Roe DeerProgress:

During winter 2012/13 Roe deer were succesfully radiocollared in the field in Italy. See photo at left.  

Lead Researchers:

Wikbe Peters (PhD student)

PhD Committee: Mark Hebblewhite (Chair), Francesca Cagnacci (co-Chair), Scott Mills, Joel Berger, Atle Mysterud. 


Foundation Edmund Mach Institute, Trentino, Italy

University of Montana


Project Links

Roe- and red deer in Trentino, Italy