UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Selective browsing by white-tailed deer has been blamed by many for changing the character and composition of forest understories in the eastern U.S.; however, its impact on the forest canopy was previously unknown.
Now, a new study led by a Penn State researcher suggests that while deer browsing has impacted tree regeneration in the understory, it has not had much of an impact on forest canopies — and in fact likely has slowed the forest densification process slightly.
“Forests in the region are becoming increasingly dense, and that is a major ecological problem,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Indeed, deer can be thought of as an agent slowing down the densification problem, albeit not very effectively.”
Abrams, who has spent most of his 40-year career studying how and why forests in the eastern U.S. have changed over the last few centuries, has assessed the role of increasing deer populations on reducing or eliminating tree regeneration in many forests.