Impacts of white-tailed deer on regional patterns of forest tree recruitment
Forest Ecology and Management
Local, short- to medium-term studies make clear that white-tailed deer can greatly suppress tree growth and survival in palatable tree species. To assess how deer have broadly affected patterns of tree recruitment across northern Wisconsin, we analyzed recruitment success in 11 common trees species that vary in palatability across 13,105 USFS - FIA plots sampled between 1983 and 2013. We also examined how recruitment in these species covaried with estimated deer densities here. Saplings of five palatable species were scarce relative to less palatable species and showed highly skewed distributions. Scarcity and skew provide reliable signals of deer impacts even when deer have severely reduced recruitment and/or no reliable deer density data are available. Deer densities ranged from 2.3 to 23 deer per km2 over a 30 year period. Sapling numbers in two maples (Acer) and aspen (Populus) with intermediate palatability declined sharply in apparent response to higher deer density. Path analysis also reveals that deer act to cumulatively depress sapling recruitment in these species over successive decades. Together, these approaches show that deer have strongly depressed sapling recruitment in all taxa except Abies and Picea. As these impacts are now propagating into larger sized trees, deer are also altering canopy composition and dynamics. The tools developed here provide efficient and reliable indicators for monitoring deer impacts on forest tree recruitment using consistent data collected by public agencies.
Bradshaw, L., and D. M. Waller. 2016. Impacts of white-tailed deer on regional patterns of forest tree recruitment. Forest Ecology and Management 375:1-11.