Date of Award
Master of Science
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have considerable impacts on woody and herbaceous vegetation. Many oak-hickory forests in the eastern U.S. are experiencing a lack of oak (Quercus) and hickory (Carya) regeneration, with deer being a likely culprit. Furthermore, few have studied deer use of different herbaceous food plot mixtures. I addressed these gaps in the literature by assessing deer impacts on forest and herbaceous vegetation in southern Illinois. I established 150 paired plots (enclosed and control) in June 2015 and measured 25 habitat variables to assess impacts of deer herbivory from August 2015 to August 2016. Oak seedlings were present more often and in higher numbers within enclosed plots (F1,299 = 6.25, P < 0.050 and F1,387 = 4.50, P < 0.050, respectively). There were no differences in the height of oak seedlings or the presence, number, or height of hickory seedlings in enclosed versus control plots (F1,53 = 0.010, P = 0.938; F1,299 = 0.850, P = 0.357; F1,267 = 1.16, P = 0.282; and F1,15 = 0.030, P = 0.855; respectively). During September-November 2015, I counted and marked fallen acorns within 50 random paired plots; the number of acorns discovered or lost did not differ between enclosed and control plots (F1,94 = 0.310, P = 0.578 and F1,8 = 0.120, P = 0.736, respectively). I suggest managers incorporate potential deer impacts when designing management plans to best encourage oak regeneration. During September-November 2015, I established 16 food plots (half tilled; each 0.05 ha in size), planted to 4 food plot types. I compared Big Tine Buck Brunch, Evolved Harvest Throw & Gro, Antler King No Sweat, and a food plot mixture that I created. I measured deer use via 2 methods: vegetation growth in exclosures versus control (i.e., unfenced) areas and camera traps. Deer used all 4 food plot mixtures (n = 292 – 2,522 pictures/plot over 9 weeks), having a negative impact on mean vegetation height outside of exclosures (F3,1148 = 6.71, P < 0.001). Analysis of camera data indicated that deer did not preferentially use any one food plot mixture over the others (F3,12 = 0.090, P > 0.050). There also was no difference in the proportion of deer pictured in the process of eating within each food plot mixture (F3,12 = 0.592, P > 0.050). I suggest any of these 4 food plot varieties could be planted by a hunter or wildlife manager in the Midwest and observe similar use by deer.
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