Hawthorne Beyer

Deciduous woodland conservation under heavy deer browsing on Devils Tower National Monument, USA

Merrill, E.H., Beyer, H.L., Jones, G.P. and McDaniel, G.W. 2003. Deciduous woodland conservation under heavy deer browsing on Devils Tower National Monument, USA. Journal for Nature Conservation 10, 221-232.

Abstract

Native deciduous woodlands comprise <5% of the vegetation in the Black Hills and northern plains of the USA and appear to be in decline. Because deciduous woodlands comprise 18% of the land cover on Devils Tower National Monument (DTNM), this natural area is potentially important for the conservation of these plant communities. Lack of tree regeneration and accumulation of dead wood suggest that the native deciduous woodlands on DTNM may die out under persistent, heavy deer (Odocoileus virginianus, O. hemionus) browsing. We monitored vegetation changes for seven years (1989–1996) inside and outside 6 deer exclosures on DTNM to determine the resilience of native woodland communities when protected from browsing, and to parameterize models that evaluate specific fencing scenarios for managing woodland communities. The herbaceous woodland understory was not directly, but indirectly affected by deer browsing because graminoid biomass declined as tall shrubs recovered. Tall shrubs, dominated by Prunus spp. showed the most rapid and consistent recovery across sites. Models of shrub growth indicated that rotational fencing for short durations (∼10 years) produced the highest long-term increase in tall-shrub densities and the greatest evenness among size classes. Because deciduous woodlands currently are resilient and occur in small patches, fencing may provide a practical management alternative to deer culling programs.

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Australian Research Council DECRA Research Fellow

Email: hawthorne -at- spatialecology.com or h.beyer -at- uq.edu.au

Affiliations:

ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions &

Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science &

Environmental Decisions Group,

School of Biological Sciences, Goddard Building

University of Queensland

Brisbane, Queensland 4072 Australia