Stepping-stones and dispersal flow: establishment of a meta-population of Milu (Elaphurus davidianus) through natural re-wilding.
Sci Rep. 2016; 6: 27297.
Published online 2016 Jun 7. doi: 10.1038/srep27297. PMCID: PMC4895148. PMID: 27272326
The Milu (Père David’s deer, Elaphurus davidianus) became extinct in China in the early 20th century but was reintroduced to the country. The reintroduced Milu escaped from a nature reserve and dispersed to the south of the Yangtze River. We monitored these accidentally escaped Milu from 1995 to 2012. The escaped Milu searched for vacant habitat patches as “stepping stones” and established refuge populations. We recorded 122 dispersal events of the escaped Milu. Most dispersal events occurred in 1998, 2003, 2006 and 2010. Milu normally disperse in March, July and November. Average dispersal distance was 14.08 ± 9.03 km, with 91.41% shorter than 25 km. After 5 generations, by the end of 2012, 300 wild Milu were scattered in refuge populations in the eastern and southern edges of the Dongting Lake. We suggest that population density is the ultimate cause for Milu dispersal, whereas floods and human disturbance are proximate causes. The case of the Milu shows that accidentally escaped animals can establish viable populations; however, the dispersed animals were subject to chance in finding “stepping stones”. The re-wilded Milu persist as a meta-population with sub-populations linked by dispersals through marginal habitats in an anthropogenic landscape.