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to produce fertile offspring -- with contiguous populations of Red deer.Consequently, many scientists prefer to think of as a “superspecies” or “ring species”, containing a number of very closely-related animals that can all be considered Red deer. The idea that Red deer and wapiti are distinct species is not a new one; some of the first suggestions were made in 1737 and wapitis were first elevated to the species level by German naturalist Georg Heinrich Borowski in 1780.The Cervidae holds two subfamilies: the Old World deer of the Cervinae and the New World deer of the Capreolinae.Within the Cervinae sit two tribes: the Cervini (“true deer”) and the Muntiancini (muntjacs).A summary of the more general aspects of the biology, ecology and behaviour of Britain’s deer species can be found elsewhere on this site.Taxonomy: Deer classification is a contentious subject, with disagreement over where the animals sit in relation to other mammals (namely whether or not they should be grouped with the whales and dolphins) as well as how many species and/or subspecies should be formally recognised.It is the Cervini tribe that interests us here – it contains four genera: is, to say the least, a contentious genus and there is much debate as to the number of species, and especially the number of subspecies, it contains.
The terrific variation observed in Red deer throughout their range has lead to the description of many potential subspecies.In 1806 Pennsylvanian-born naturalist and physician Benjamin Smith Barton suggested that North American elk and Red deer from Europe were sufficiently different to be considered different species and proposed the name wapiti, meaning “white rump”, for the North American elk.Since then, the wapiti has been the subject of much taxonomic yo-yoing, being moved between a full species, ).The Red deer has a long history in Britain – one of only two native deer species in the UK, it’s a beast highly prized by hunters, naturalists, artists, poets and photographers alike.Renowned Scottish artist Archibald Thorburn summed up the situation nicely in his 1920 book .” That which follows is a summary of Red deer natural history.
Unfortunately, the majority of these traits are not good taxonomic indicators, because they’re readily influenced by the environment – arguably this is especially true for body size and antler growth, both of which can be severely limited in habitats with poor grazing/browsing, even though antler development appears deeply rooted in the animal’s genetics.