Friday, July 21, 2006

DEER RESEARCH: Feeding Promotes Overbrowsing

Year-round supplemental feeding programs for whitetail deer could lead to the overgrazing and damage of native forage plants located near feeding stations.

That's the word according to a news release summarizing a year-long research study conducted at a ranch near Uvalde by wildlife scientists from Texas A&M University.

Experts conducted the study by dividing the ranch into six quadrants. They compared forage use in three areas with deer feeders to three areas where supplemental feed was not made available.

Radio collars were placed on about two dozen adult deer to pattern their movements.

The study showed the browse utilization analysis was confined to three palatable plant species grown in pots in green house conditions. Researchers placed the plants within 100 yards of feeders, and at center of no-feed quadrants to monitor usage during varied seasons of the year.

Varied degrees of test plant utilization were documented over the course of the study, according to Susan Cooper, the lead researcher.

"The fate of the seedlings was recorded as either browsed, dead or gone," Cooper said. "Gone meant there were no additional seedlings available to replace the plant after it had been browsed. Each plant species and season was analyzed separately."

Interestingly, Cooper noticed that activity of collared does seem to become more concentrated than bucks to core areas where supplemental feed was available.

The scientist concluded that land managers with year-round supplemental feeding programs in place might consider altering feeder locations periodically to reduce the potential of habitat degradation because of overgrazing of popular forage plants.

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