Effects of white-tailed deer herbivory on a tallgrass prairie remnant
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A study was conducted to determine what impact high white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) densities were having on the native grasslands of a tallgrass: aspen forest tract embedded within an agro-urban setting. Due to excessive spring moisture, row-crops were unavailable the first year. Using microhistological fecal analysis to determine dietary composition, deer were assessed to be placing the site’s favoured native plant species at risk of extirpation. Measuring woody stem abundance and height along and near the prairie: forest ecotone, deer were found to restructure woody growth but not directly influence encroachment rates. Indirectly, however, deer facilitated forest encroachment and prairie degradation through seed dispersal, nitrogen deposition, gap-dynamics, and trampling. Comparing dietary composition to nutritional data, deer grazed to maximize fitness, selecting foods high in IVDMD, minimizing energy expenditure, and optimizing CP. High crop CP was offset by intensively grazing particular native plants. ADF was an effective nutritional marker, not AIA.