Biology graduate publishes honors thesis on patterns and drivers of deer browse with Sewanee professors

Deer map with figure legend from forests

Meg Armistead (C’14 Ecology and Biodiversity) has published her honors thesis work on the patterns and drivers of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herbivory across 3,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau. Increasing white-tailed deer populations have led to changes in plant community composition and structure due to their herbivory patterns. As a result, it is important to identify drivers of this herbivory in order to inform management practices.

‌In the summer of 2012, Meg worked with Dr. Jonathan Evans (Biology) to measure sapling density and patterns of herbivory in 45 transects across the plateau surface on the Sewanee Domain. Meg presented her work at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group in Greenville, SC in 2013. In the summer of 2015, Dr. Evans led undergraduate research assistants to resurvey transects.

meg armistead hoop inventory‌Dr. Kristen Cecala (Biology) and Callie Oldfield (C’15 Biology) used these data to model the drivers of deer browse across the landscape. They compared the effects of features related to topography, forest edge, and deer culls on sapling density in 2012 and 2015. They found that features related to topography were the most important in predicting deer herbivory impacts on the landscape, followed by forest edge and then deer culls.

“We believe the drainages in the unusually steep bluff topography of the Cumberland Plateau act as a funnel for deer,” Dr. Evans says, “Because of the unique topography of this area, we cannot assume that deer browse impacts will be homogenous across this landscape – they may be concentrated in areas of high deer traffic onto the plateau.”

Dr. Chris Van De Ven (Earth and Environmental Systems), Meg Armistead, and Callie Oldfield examined the spatial patterns of sapling density using GIS and produced a predictive map of sapling densities across the Domain.

Zack Loehle and Emily RiedlingerThis is the first deer browse study for the Cumberland Plateau, and it reveals the importance of topography in determining the impacts of deer across a landscape. This work will help inform management decisions about deer on the Domain by providing maps of areas of highest deer impact.

This publication, titled “Pattern and Drivers of White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Herbivory on Tree Saplings across a Plateau Landscape, is available through the open-access journal Forests: