Monday, October 27, 2008

RESEARCH NEWS: Deer Elevate Local Animal Diversity

Katherine Greenwald and colleagues recently published a paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management (2008: 72:1318-1321) that reports higher levels of animal diversity in areas with deer relative to deer exclusion plots. The experiment was conducted in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in NE Ohio. Deer exclosures were built in 1999, and were 10 x 10 m in size. The study of animal diversity was conducted in 2004 and 2005.

Key findings included:

1. Red-backed salamanders were about three times more abundant in deer plots.
2. Snakes were about five times more abundant in deer plots.
3. Gastropods (i.e. snails and slugs) were about 10% higher in deer plots.

To date, there have been relatively few studies conducted on relationships between deer browsing and animals, and as such this represents an important contribution. However, the results are somewhat surprising. All previous work (just 3 studies to my knowledge) has revealed negative relationships between gastropods and deer browsing. This is a counterintuitive result.

Conversely, the findings involving browsing and snakes makes sense. Snakes are ectotherms and would benefit from more open conditions, presumably.

I am surprised by the strong response of salamanders to deer. I would have expected a weaker response, and I would have expected a negative relationship between salamanders and deer.

This study reported some interesting patterns, but I do not know how generalizable they are. I hope there is some follow-up research forthcoming.

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