Abstract Detail


Collings, Jeremy [1], Arsuffi, Tom [2].

Deer herbivory alters plant community structure in the Edwards Plateau.

            Deer populations in the United States have been increasing since the beginning of the twentieth century, stimulating empirical research on the impacts of deer overabundance on ecosystems. Experimental research studies using deer exclosures have demonstrated that deer can modify multiple characteristics of plant communities. However, this research is mainly in the Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the United States. Little research has been conducted on how deer impact plant communities in the state of Texas. Furthermore, research on deer impacts has historically been biased toward aboveground components of plant communities. Recent research suggests that deer may be impacting essential belowground processes such as associations between mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots. The goal of this study was to assess the impacts of deer on both above and belowground components of plant communities in the Edwards Plateau ecoregion of Texas. To do this, we conducted vegetation surveys, sampled standing crop biomass, and assessed mycorrhizal colonization rates in deer exclosures and paired open plots. We then compared diversity, community composition, standing crop biomass, and average mycorrhizal colonization rates of two native plant species between exclosures and open plots. From the vegetation data, we found that plant diversity was greater in exclosures than in open plots and that the plant community composition differed between exclosures and open plots. We found no difference in standing crop biomass or mycorrhizal colonization rate. The findings of this study suggest that deer are impacting plant communities. This study is based on one year of deer exclosure, and other studies have found that deer impacts on plant communities become more apparent as time since exclosure increases. Thus, it is likely that differences between exclosures and open plots in these sites will continue to increase in coming years. Noticeable changes in primary productivity or belowground interactions may have been moderated by the above average precipitation during the sampling period and may require more time to respond to exclusion of deer. The results of this study serve as the first empirical support for community level impacts of deer in the Edwards Plateau ecoregion. Long-term research will be important in further investigating the intensity of these impacts as well as detecting indirect impacts of deer such as changes in belowground interactions due to aboveground herbivory.

1 - SUNY Cortland
2 - Texas Tech University

Comunity Ecology

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Number: ECO7006
Abstract ID:236
Candidate for Awards:None

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