Title:  Potential for synergy between white-tailed deer herbivory and invasive plant species in mature deciduous forests
Author(s): William J. McShea, Chad Stewart, Norm Bourg
Year: 2009
Abstract: Reduction of deer populations often is undertaken to increase the diversity of native plants within public forests. However, due to the recent invasion of exotic plant species into eastern forests, better understanding is needed of the relationship between white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herbivory and invasive plant species and their relative contributions to limiting native species. We initiated a controlled field experiment in 2005 at 3 high deer density sites in the mid-Atlantic upland deciduous forest (Conservation and Research Center, Front Royal, VA; Great Falls National Park, VA; and the Goldmine tract of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, MD). We conducted baseline vegetation surveys (all herbaceous and woody plants <10" in height) of 333 12'x12' randomly located plots. We used a 2x2 factorial design of deer exclusion (fenced) and invasive species removal (hand pulling) treatments. Invasive species were pulled twice each year during the growing season and fences were maintained year-round. Plots were resurveyed in 2007 for native species richness, diversity, and woody stem counts. All experimental treatments resulted in increased species richness and total numbers, but the greatest response arose from removal of invasive species, not removal of deer. This response was most impressive for herbaceous species and on sites where invasive species already were abundant in 2005. All sites will be resurveyed in 2009, with emphasis on examining woody species. Deer control, in the absence of invasive plant species control, likely will not result in significant changes in understory plant diversity.

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