Structuring Effects of Deer in Boreal Forest Ecosystems

  • Côté S
  • Beguin J
  • de Bellefeuille S
  • et al.
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Abstract

Many deer populations have recently increased worldwide leading to strong direct and indirect ecological and socioeconomical impacts on the composition, dynamic, and functions of forest ecosystems. Deer directly modify the composition and structure of vegetation communities, but they also indirectly affect other species of the ecosystem by modifying the structure of the vegetation. Here we review the results of a research program on overabundant white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus ) in the boreal forest of Anticosti Island (Québec, Canada) aimed at identifying deer densities compatible with forest regeneration. Various silvicultural systems and treatments failed to regenerate deer habitat at high deer densities, but planting size-adapted seedlings could be effective at moderate densities. Using a controlled deer density experiment, we found vegetation recovery at deer densities ≤ 15 deer/km 2 . The same experiment revealed that other groups of organisms such as insects and birds responded favorably to a reduction of deer density. We also found that alternative successional trajectories may occur after a certain period of heavy browsing during early succession. We conclude that one of the most important remaining research gaps is the need to identify habitat-specific threshold densities at which deer impacts occur and then to design effective wildlife and forest management strategies to limit deer impacts and sustain ecosystem integrity.

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Côté, S. D., Beguin, J., de Bellefeuille, S., Champagne, E., Thiffault, N., & Tremblay, J.-P. (2014). Structuring Effects of Deer in Boreal Forest Ecosystems. Advances in Ecology, 2014, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/917834

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