White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimm.) have the potential to alter plant community composition and successional trajectory by browsing differentially on forb, graminoid, and woody species. The objective of this study was to determine if seasonal elimination of deer browsing changed wetland plant community composition and structure. We established 66 deer exclosure plots in two wetland vegetation communities in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, USA. Plots were established in April 2005 and monitoring was conducted in June and October, 2005–2007 to obtain data on both early and late species. Composition differed between control and treatment plots in Solidago spp.–Rubus hispidus L. communities in late-protected plots (enclosed July–October) when data were gathered in October. Community composition also varied in early-protected plots (enclosed April–July) when data were gathered in June. Forb cover increased in treatment plots in Solidago spp.–Rubus hispidus communities. Composition differed in Populus tremuloides Michx. communities in late-protected and continuously protected plots. There was no increase in cover by any wetland indicator status categories after 2 years of protection. Timing of browse played an influential role in the effect that white-tailed deer have on wetland plant communities. Our results suggest that reducing browsing pressure seasonally can increase forb species cover.
Plant Ecology – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 17, 2018
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