Browsing down our natural heritage

Declines in forest and woodland birds have largely been attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation. In the past decade, however, the potential for herbivores to influence bird species abundance and community composition via their direct impact on vegetation structure has also been recognised. We tested the hypothesis that deer influence vegetation structure and bird assemblages in a large island archipelago in western North America using surveys of 18 islands with deer densities ranging from 0 to over 1 deer/ha. Amongst these islands, reduced predation and hunting pressure has allowed deer populations to increase above those likely to have existed in pre-European times. Our results support a growing body of evidence that deer regulate both the cover and architecture of understory vegetation which in turn profoundly affects island bird assemblages.

Martin, T. G., Arcese, P. & Scheerder, N. (2011) Browsing down our natural heritage: Deer impacts vegetation structure and songbird assemblages across an island archipelago. Biological Conservation 144:459-469 doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.09.033

Black-tailed deer

High deer browsing

Moderate deer browsing

Low deer browsing

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