Multiple browsers structure tree recruitment in logged temperate forests

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Historical extirpations have resulted in depauperate large herbivore assemblages in many northern forests. In eastern North America, most forests are inhabited by a single wild ungulate species, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and relationships between deer densities and impacts on forest regeneration are correspondingly well documented. Recent recolonizations by moose (Alces americanus) in northeastern regions complicate established deer density thresholds and predictions of browsing impacts on forest dynamics because size and foraging differences between the two animals suggest a lack of functional redundancy. We asked to what extent low densities of deer + moose would structure forest communities differently from that of low densities of deer in recently logged patch cuts of Massachusetts, USA. In each site, a randomized block with three treatment levels of large herbivores–no-ungulates (full exclosure), deer (partial exclosure), and deer + moose (control) was established. After 6–7 years, deer + moose reduced stem densities and basal area by 2-3-fold, Prunus pensylvanica and Quercus spp. recruitment by 3–6 fold, and species richness by 1.7 species (19%). In contrast, in the partial exclosures, deer had non-significant effects on stem density, basal area, and species composition, but significantly reduced species richness by 2.5 species on average (28%). Deer browsing in the partial exclosure was more selective than deer + moose browsing together, perhaps contributing to the decline in species richness in the former treatment and the lack of additional decline in the latter. Moose used the control plots at roughly the same frequency as deer (as determined by remote camera traps), suggesting that the much larger moose was the dominant browser species in terms of animal biomass in these cuts. A lack of functional redundancy with respect to foraging behavior between sympatric large herbivores may explain combined browsing effects that were both large and complex.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Multiple browsers structure tree recruitment in logged temperate forests
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0166783
Volume 11
Issue 11
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher PLOS
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description e0166783; 14 p.
First page 1
Last page 14
Country United States
State Massachusetts
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