Controlled feeding experiments can provide valuable insights into food selection of herbivores. We conducted cafeteria trials on captive yearling white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) during 2 years to determine feeding preferences in relation to plant chemical constituents, i.e., nitrogen and fibers. We simultaneously offered 8 species of cultivated and wild plants in monthly foraging trials conducted from June to October. We predicted that species preferences would be positively related to protein content from June to August and to digestible energy in September and October. As predicted, crude protein (CP) was positively related to feeding preferences, particularly as summer progressed. Feeding preferences were also negatively related to fiber content, especially in early summer. Our results indicate high protein needs over the complete growing season for yearling deer but a decrease in overall plant selectivity as summer progresses. Our results also suggest that deer browsing on cultivated plants might be due to higher CP content of cultivated plants than wild plants. To prevent deer impact on crops, managers should favor regeneration of plants rich in CP content in forests.
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