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Ecology and management of white-tailed deer in a changing world


William J. McShea, Center for Conservation Ecology, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, 1500 Remount Rd., Front Royal, VA 22630.


Due to chronic high densities and preferential browsing, white-tailed deer have significant impacts on woody and herbaceous plants. These impacts have ramifications for animals that share resources and across trophic levels. High deer densities result from an absence of predators or high plant productivity, often due to human habitat modifications, and from the desires of stakeholders that set deer management goals based on cultural, rather than biological, carrying capacity. Success at maintaining forest ecosystems require regulating deer below biological carrying capacity, as measured by ecological impacts. Control methods limit reproduction through modifications in habitat productivity or increase mortality through increasing predators or hunting. Hunting is the primary deer management tool and relies on active participation of citizens. Hunters are capable of reducing deer densities but struggle with creating densities sufficiently low to ensure the persistence of rare species. Alternative management models may be necessary to achieve densities sufficiently below biological carrying capacity. Regardless of the population control adopted, success should be measured by ecological benchmarks and not solely by cultural acceptance.