The unusual value of long-term studies of individuals: The example of the Isle of Rum red deer project

Josephine M Pemberton, Loeske Kruuk, Tim H. Clutton-Brock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-term studies of individuals enable incisive investigations of questions across ecology and evolution. Here, we illustrate this claim by reference to our long-term study of red deer on the Isle of Rum, Scotland. This project has established many of the characteristics of social organization, selection, and population ecology typical of large, polygynous, seasonally breeding mammals, with wider implications for our understanding of sexual selection and the evolution of sex differences, as well as for their population dynamics and population management. As molecular genetic techniques have developed, the project has pivoted to investigate evolutionary genetic questions, also breaking new ground in this field. With ongoing advances in genomics and statistical approaches and the development of increasingly sophisticated ways to assay new phenotypic traits, the questions that long-term studies such as the red deer study can answer become both broader and ever more sophisticated. They also offer powerful means of understanding the effects of ongoing climate change on wild populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-351
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • deer
  • fitness
  • population density
  • sexual selection
  • climate change
  • inbreeding
  • heritability


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