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Is deer herbivory directly proportional to deer population density? Comparison of deer feeding frequencies among six forests with different deer density

Koda, Ryosuke, Fujita, Noboru
Forest ecology and management 2011 v.262 no.3 pp. 432-439
deer, feeding frequency, foods, forest ecosystems, forests, herbivores, islands, population density, population growth, population size, saplings, Japan
The intensity of deer herbivory, rather than simply the deer population density, directly affects the forest ecosystem, but a linear relationship between these two factors has generally been assumed. To assess their relationship, we investigated deer population density and tree sapling vegetation in six forests with different deer density on Yakushima Island, Japan. The feeding frequency was used as an index of deer herbivory. Palatable saplings showed high feeding frequency and became rare in deer-abundant areas, while unpalatable saplings showed low feeding frequency and increased with increasing deer density. In addition, feeding frequency on sapling vegetation did not continue to increase with increasing deer population and was limited to only 0.24–0.32 in deer-abundant areas (more than 20 deer/km²). These data suggest that deer shift their main food items from living palatable saplings to other alternatives such as litter fall rather than living unpalatable saplings. Clearly, the nonlinear relationship between deer density and deer herbivory on forest vegetation could result from a change in the food eaten by deer, and it is therefore necessary to assess the impacts of deer based on not only the size of the deer population but also the intensity of direct herbivory.