Title:  Effects of white-tailed deer density and supplemental feeding on vegetation biomass
Author(s): Kim N. Echols, Timothy E. Fulbright, Charles A. DeYoung, David G. Hewitt, Carlos E. Gonzales, Nathan D. Kelley, Eric D. Grahman, Don A. Draeger
Year: 2010
Abstract: Abstract: Supplemental feeding of deer may result in increased foraging pressure on more palatable plants. Increasing deer densities within fed pastures has the potential to compound this effect on vegetation. We hypothesized that forb biomass would decline with supplemental feeding and increasing deer density and that there would be no effects on browse and cacti biomass. We conducted research in 6 200-acre high-fenced enclosures stocked with high (40), medium (25), and low deer densities (10) replicated on 2 ranches in Dimmit County, Texas. Pelleted dry feed was provided ad libitum to one pair of each density per ranch. Our statistical models accounted for variability in targeted densities for each enclosure. We estimated plant biomass during March and August (2004-2009) using forty 2.7 ft2 X 4.9 ft sampling frames/enclosure. Samples of each forage class were clipped and visually estimated (double sampling); samples were dried to a constant weight at 104°F. During the drought years of 2006 and 2009, browse biomass declined as deer density increased but no relationship was detected during the other 4 years. Forb biomass trended downward with increasing deer densities averaged over the 5 years and both feed treatments. No differences were detected between fed and unfed enclosures (P>0.05) for any forage class or total biomass. Cacti, grass, and half shrub biomass showed no relationship to deer density. Vegetation biomass in semi-arid environments appears to be more influenced by extreme weather (temperature, rainfall) than by deer density or supplemental feed availability.

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