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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Deer Browsing may Constrain Climate-smart Reforestation

White-tailed deer actively browsing a seedling.

A research team finds deer browsing may thwart the success of adaptive forestry practices designed to mitigate the growing threat to forests from climate change.

Climate change creates a significant risk to forests and the ecosystem services they provide including wood, carbon storage, and clean air and water. In response, managers and scientists are testing novel management approaches to stem the growing threat posed by climate change. Climate, however, is not the sole factor determining where tree seedlings survive and thrive. High browsing pressure from various deer species limits tree seedling growth, abundance, and diversity across wide swaths of our nation’s forests, and beyond. An international research team, including a Northern Research Station (NRS) scientist co-lead and scientists from Europe and Canada, provided insight on how climate-adaptive forestry may hinge on recognizing and managing deer browsing. The review of the world literature found 35 of 57 studies developing or testing climate-adaptive forestry considered deer browsing posed a threat to success. Furthermore, the authors suggest browsing may accelerate loss of trees vulnerable to climate change or limit establishment of trees planned for climate-adaptive plantings, provided they are also highly favored by deer. These trees are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: browsing limits their growth and survival as climate change revamps their habitat. Without considering the role of browsing, climate-adapted strategies implemented today could ultimately fail and exacerbate the pressure on forests.


Publications and Resources

External Partners

  • Emilie Champagne, Québec Ministry of Forests, Fauna, and Parks
  • Patricia Raymond, Québec Ministry of Forests, Fauna, and Parks
  • Jean-Pierre Tremblay, Laval University, Québec
  • Steeve Cote, Laval University, Québec
  • James D.M. Speed, Norwegian University of Science and Technology