Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Deer and Forest Ecosystems

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Deer and Forest Ecosystems

Article excerpt

Reducing the number of deer in forests and parks may unexpectedly reduce the number of reptiles, amphibians, and insects in that area, new research suggests. A recent study by researchers at The Ohio State University and National Park Service found that higher deer activity is modifying forest ecosystems in unexpected ways. Out of several species of snakes, salamanders, and invertebrates studied, a greater diversity of animals was found in areas with deer populations than in areas with no deer activity.

The study, which comes at a time when many states have begun to selectively control deer populations, challenges previous research that has suggested deer populations can negatively impact forest ecosystems through eating plants that many smaller animals may depend on. Instead, researchers found that high numbers of deer may in fact be attracting a greater number of species. This may be because their waste creates a more nutrient-rich soil and as a result, areas with deer draw higher numbers of insects and other invertebrates. These insects then attract larger predators which thrive on insect larvae, such as salamanders, and the salamanders in turn attract even larger predators such as snakes.

The results, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, highlight how recent attempts to control deer populations in and around forests may indirectly affect other animals in the forest. "By just reducing the number of deer in the forest, we are actually indirectly impacting forest ecosystems without even knowing the possible effects," says Katherine Greenwald, coauthor of the study and doctoral student in evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at Ohio State. …

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