1. Coastal resilience is threatened as storm-induced disturbances become more frequent and intense with anticipated changes in weather patterns. After severe storms, rapid recovery of vegetation, especially that of dune-stabilizing plants, is a fundamental property of coastal resilience. Herbivores may affect resilience by selectively foraging palatable plant species in disturbed areas. Knowledge of herbivore impacts to dune recovery after storm events is crucial to management of coastal properties.
2. We combined imagery classification, wildlife monitoring, and trend analysis to investigate effects of white-tailed deer on recovery rates of vegetation over four years post-storm in nine areas overwashed. We estimated local deer density with trail cameras, coupled deer density with primary productivity, and assessed the relationship between deer density and rates of vegetation recovery in overwash fans.
3. Pre-storm vegetation cover consisted of shrubs and sporadic patches of beachgrass. Post-storm cover was dominated by beachgrass. At current recovery rates, vegetation coverage will return to pre-storm conditions within the decade, though community transition from grasses to shrubs will take longer and will vary by site with the rate of dune formation.
4. The effect of deer on rates of vegetation recovery was negative, but not statistically significant nor biologically compelling. Although effects of trampling are evident in classified imagery, deer foraging on beachgrass had little effect on rates of spread throughout overwash fans.
5. Our research provides perhaps the first assessment of the effects of deer on post-storm vegetation recovery. While the rate of spread of the primary dune-building plant species was not deleteriously affected by deer, locally high deer densities will likely affect the establishment and development of more palatable herbs and shrubs.