Herbivores can profoundly influence plant species assembly, including plant invasion, and resulting community composition. Population increases of native herbivores, e.g. white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), combined with burgeoning plant invasions raise concerns for native plant diversity and forest regeneration. While individual researchers typically test for the impact of deer on plant invasion at a few sites, the overarching influence of deer on plant invasion across regional scales is unclear. We tested the effects of deer on the abundance and diversity of introduced and native herbaceous and woody plants across 23 white-tailed deer research sites distributed across the east-central and north-eastern USA and representing a wide range of deer densities and invasive plant abundance and identity. Deer access/exclusion or deer population density did not affect introduced plant richness or community-level abundance. Native and total plant species richness, abundance (cover and stem density) andShannon diversity were lower in deer-access vs. deer-exclusion plots. Among deer-access plots, native species richness, native and total cover, and Shannon diversity (cover) declined as deer density increased. Deer access increasedthe proportion of introduced species cover (but not of species richness or stem density). As deer density increased, the proportion of introduced species richness, cover and stem density all increased. Because absolute abundance of introduced plants was unaffected by deer, the increase in proportion of introduced plant abundance is likely an indirect effect of deer reducing native cover. Indicator species analysis revealed that deer access favoured three introduced plant species, including Alliaria petiolata and Microstegium vimineum, as well as four native plant species. In contrast, deer exclusion favoured three introduced plant species, including Lonicera japonica and Rosa multiflora, and 15 native plant species. Overall, native deer reduced community diversity, lowering native plant richness and abundance, and benefited certain invasive plants, suggesting pervasive impacts of this keystone herbivore on plant community composition and ecosystem services in native forests across broad swathes of the eastern USA.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science