Abstract

Title:  Effect of Deer Density on White-Tailed Deer Diet Composition
Author(s): Kory R Gann
Year: 2011
Abstract: Deer population density may affect forage class composition of white-tailed deer diets in South Texas. Selective foraging by deer at high deer densities can lead to overutilization of higher quality forages, causing reduced biomass, abundance, and nutritional quality of available vegetation. We hypothesized that high deer density will cause a shift in deer diets toward less nutritious forage classes. We placed 2-3 tame female deer in 4 200-acre high fenced-enclosures on 2 ranches in South Texas. Each ranch had enclosures of low (10 deer) and high (40 deer) population densities. We recorded 2 hr/deer of active foraging to determine the number and size of bites taken of each plant species and plant part during each of 4 seasons. Representative bites of each plant species and plant part consumed were collected and dried at 40°C to determine the mass of each species consumed. Species were then divided into 9 forage classes: browse, cacti, flower, forb, fungi, grass, litter, mast, and sub-shrub. Deer in the high density treatment consumed 29% more browse (P = 0.062) and 35% less forbs (P = 0.10) than deer in the low density treatment. Deer in the high density treatment consumed 139% more cacti during winter (P = 0.049) than deer in the low density treatment. Preliminary results suggest that high deer densities may cause a shift in white-tailed deer diets in South Texas towards less nutritious forage classes.

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