Deer Herbivory as an Ecological Constraint to Restoration of Degraded Riparian Corridors

Authors

  • Jeff J. Opperman,

    1. Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720–3110, U.S.A.
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  • Adina M. Merenlender

    1. Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720–3110, U.S.A.
    2. Address correspondence to A. Merenlender, Ecosystem Science Division, University of California, Berkeley, Depatment of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, 151 Hillgard Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720–3110, U.S.A.
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Abstract

Ungulate herbivory can impact riparian vegetation in several ways, such as by reducing vigor or reproductive output of mature plants, and through increased mortality of seedlings and saplings. Much work has focused on the effects of livestock grazing within riparian corridors, while few studies have addressed the influence of native ungulate herbivory on riparian vegetation. This study investigated the effect of deer herbivory on riparian regeneration along three streams with degraded riparian corridors in Mendocino County, California. We utilized existing stream restoration efforts by private landowners and natural resource agencies to compare six deer exclosures with six upstream control plots. Livestock were excluded from both exclosure and control plots. Three of the deer exclosures had been in place for 15 years, one for 6 years, and two for 4 years. The abundance and size distribution of woody riparian plant species such as Salix exigua, S. laevigata, S. lasiolepis, Alnus rhombifolia, and Fraxinus latifolia were quantified for each exclosure and control plot. The mean density of saplings in deer exclosures was 0.49 ± 0.15/m2, while the mean density of saplings in control plots was 0.05 ± 0.02/m2. Within exclosures, 35% of saplings were less than 1 m and 65% were greater than 1 m; within control plots, 97% of saplings were less than 1 m in height. The fact that little regeneration had occurred in control plots suggests that deer herbivory can substantially reduce the rate of recovery of woody riparian species within degraded riparian corridors. Exclusionary fencing has demonstrated promising results for riparian restoration in a region with intense deer herbivory.

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