AVID - Assessing Vegetation Impacts from Deer.  

Kristi Sullivan, Peter Smallidge and Paul Curtis. Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Department of Natural Resources, Ithaca, NY. 

Obtain a copy here

The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) can significantly influence New York’s forests. As selective browsers, deer prefer to eat certain plant species more than other less desirable species. Many of the tree species deer prefer to consume are valued for timber, or as food-producing trees for wildlife, for example oak and maple. Deer also eat many wildflower and understory plants.

The effects of deer browsing on the composition and structure of New York forests can have long-lasting effects (also called “legacy” effects) that persist for decades even after deer impacts are reduced. In areas with a history of deer overabundance, regeneration failure – the failure of new, young trees to grow – is having a detrimental effect on woodlands and the potential to keep these areas healthy and diverse.

Evidence for the over-abundance of deer include one or more of these features:

  • Park-like appearance in the woods
  • An understory dominated by invasive shrubs
  • An understory dominated by deer-resistant ferns
  • An understory dominated by non-palatable woody brush
  • A browse line
  • Cropped or “Bonsai” tree seedlings
  • An absence or stunted wildflowers such as Trillium, Indian cucumber, or Jack-in-the-pulpit.

It is difficult to measure the number of deer.  Also, the number of deer is less ecologically important than the impacts of the deer.  The AVID protocol provides a simple index of deer impact by measuring plants in successive years to monitor changes in height.  The data from AVID will be aggregated to help inform decision makers about the impacts of deer in communities and regions.

Funding for AVID is provided through the NYS DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the protocol was developed in collaboration with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

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