Skip to Main Content
The legacy of deer overabundance: long-term delays in herbaceous understory recoveryAuthor(s): Thomas H. Pendergast; Shane M. Hanlon; Zachary M. Long; Alex Royo; Walter P. Carson
Source: Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 46(3): 362-369.
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
Download Publication (720.0 KB)
DescriptionDecades of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus (Zimmermann, 1780)) overpopulation have dramatically homogenized forests across much of the eastern United States, creating depauperate forest understory communities. The rate at which these communities recover once deer browsing has been reduced remains an open question. We evaluate overbrowsing legacy effects by examining how forest herbaceous layers respond in terms of biodiversity, density, and community composition over 11 years using exclosures and control plots within a mature beech–maple forest. Although little recovery occurred in the first 5 years, total density and preferred browse density rebounded substantially during the final years of the study. Although community composition began to diverge between exclosure and control plots after 5 years, diversity failed to recover even after 11 years of excluding browsers. Our findings show that vulnerable species can increase after excluding browsers but only if those species were initially present. Biodiversity recovery may be extremely slow because preferred browse species have been nearly extirpated from many forests and thus are unable to recruit into refugia. We empirically demonstrate the extent of the ghost of herbivory past or legacy effect of browsing, i.e., the substantial time delay between herbivore abatement and community response after decades of high deer densities.
- Check the Northern Research Station web site to request a printed copy of this publication.
- Our on-line publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat.
- During the capture process some typographical errors may occur.
- Please contact Sharon Hobrla, firstname.lastname@example.org if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.
- We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
- This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
CitationPendergast, Thomas H.; Hanlon, Shane M.; Long, Zachary M.; Royo, Alejandro A.; Carson, Walter P. 2016. The legacy of deer overabundance: long-term delays in herbaceous understory recovery. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 46(3): 362-369.
Keywordswhite-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, herbivory, understory, forest recovery
- Long-term biological legacies of herbivore density in a landscape-scale experiment: forest understories reflect past deer density treatments for at least 20 years
- Does white-tailed deer density affect tree stocking in forests of the eastern United States?
- Browsing patterns of white-tailed deer following increased timber harvest and a decline in population density
XML: View XML