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Spatiotemporal variation in deer browse and tolerance in a woodland herb


Janet C. Steven
Laura F. Galloway



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station




Herbivory can shape the dynamics of plant populations, including effects on survival and reproduction, and is in turn affected by environmental factors that vary in space and time. White-tailed deer are significant herbivores in North America that have been broadly documented to affect plant reproductive success. If variation in the frequency and impact of herbivory by deer correlates with a broad-scale latitudinal gradient, climactic effects may be important for shaping plant–herbivore interactions. Alternatively, a lack of broad-scale gradients would suggest local factors such as plant community composition and deer densities are affecting herbivory. To investigate broad-scale patterns of deer herbivory, we examined the frequency and reproductive consequences of deer browse over three years in 17 populations of Campanulastrum americanum spanning the latitudinal extent of its range. Even though deer are overabundant throughout the range of C. americanum, we found spatiotemporal variation in deer browse frequency (0–0.96, mean 0.46) and its effects on plant reproductive success. The four southernmost populations experienced high levels of herbivory, and were responsible for generating a negative relationship between latitude and herbivory. In general, patterns of variation in the frequency and impact of herbivory across the entire latitudinal gradient pointed to the importance of local rather than broad-scale factors. Within a population, deer consumed larger plants. Across many populations and years, average fitnesses of browsed and uneaten plants were similar, suggesting that plants are tolerant to browse. However, since large plants have greater reproductive success and are more likely to be browsed, tolerance may be influenced by plant size. When plant size was accounted for, most populations did not fully compensate for browsing. There was no relationship between browsing intensity and tolerance, suggesting that browsing may be too variable to consistently select for tolerance, or that increases in deer density are too recent for increased tolerance to evolve.


Prendeville, Holly R.; Steven, Janet C.; Galloway, Laura F. 2015. Spatiotemporal variation in deer browse and tolerance in a woodland herb. Ecology, Vol. 96(2): 8 pages.: 471-478.


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