Spatial Methods for Broad-Scale Assessment of Deer Browse Impacts in Virginia
Kniowski, Andrew B.
Ford, W. Mark
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Biodiversity has become a central focus of conservation effort and research over the past several decades. Ungulates are important modifiers in many ecosystems and can significantly alter biodiversity. Throughout the eastern United States, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are the forefront of research and discussion due to chronically high densities in many regions and the resultant impact to ecosystems and human land use activities. Although ecological benchmarks or measures of herbivory impact have become increasingly important metrics to consider in deer population management, current limitations in understanding impede their application across landscapes. For example, few data describe the local and regional spatial variation in impact measures due to inherent geologic and topographic characteristics. Further, little is known regarding the extent anthropogenically altered landscape elements, such as roadways, agriculture, and urban areas influence deer browse impact or how vegetation species respond to herbivory in different landscape contexts. We propose a method to examine deer spatial browse patterns and factors influencing browse intensity and impact measurement across Virginia by implementing a spatially explicit and stratified study design. By examining distinct, spatial aspects of deer herbivory across landscapes, the information gathered may provide critical insight and aid the widespread application of deer impact measurements.