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Deer Impact on Vegetation in Natural Areas in Southeastern Nebraska

Gubanyi, J.A., Savidge, J.A., Hygnstrom, S.E., VerCauteren, K.C., Garabrandt, G.W., Korte, S.P.
Natural areas journal 2008 v.28 no.2 pp. 121
Odocoileus virginianus, vertebrate pests, browsing, feeding preferences, population density, understory, trees, seedlings, ground vegetation, herbaceous plants, woody plants, shrubs, vegetation, botanical composition, forests, floodplains, plant damage, forest damage, saplings, Nebraska, Missouri River
We studied the effect of browsing by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman) on vegetation at three sites with high densities of deer and six sites with low densities of deer along the Missouri and Platte Rivers in southeastern Nebraska in 1995-1996. Vegetation volume from 0-1 m high was similar between sites with high and low deer densities (P > 0.05). From 1-2 m high, vegetation volume was less at sites with more deer in both years (P < 0.05). Densities for eight of 11 small woody plant categories (< 3 cm dbh) were less common at sites with high densities of deer (P < 0.05). Overall densities of small trees (3-15 cm dbh) were similar between sites with high and low densities of deer. However, small hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis L.) were more common (P = 0.03), while all other small trees were less common (P = 0.038), at sites with more deer. Frequencies of ground cover plants were not randomly distributed (χ2 = 588.2, P < 0.001, df = 12). Shrubs were less common and grasses more common than expected at sites with more deer. Forests at sites with high densities of deer are in the process of succeeding to a state dominated by hackberry in the overstory with reduced woody vegetation and increased grasses in the understory due to intensive browsing by deer.