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1 April 1998 Selection of Mature Growth Stages of Coniferous Browse in Temperate Forests by White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
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Abstract
Mammalian herbivores in boreal areas selectively browse on mature-stage growth rather than on juvenile-stage growth of conspecific plants during winter. Such stage-dependent selection often is mediated by levels of secondary metabolites that decline as plants mature. Little is known regarding the extent to which this pattern is repeated for temperate-zone plants browsed by different mammalian species. We conducted field experiments in a temperate forest with free-ranging white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to test whether selection of coniferous browse was influenced by a plant's maturational stage. Trials conducted during February 1990 in western Connecticut demonstrated that deer browsed a significantly greater percentage of eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) collected from reproductively mature plants (mean = 72%) than from juvenile plants (mean = 16%). Trials with eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) produced similar results: deer browsed a significantly greater percentage of shoots from mature trees (mean = 70%) than shoots from juvenile plants (mean = 21%). Chemical analyses revealed that crude protein levels were significantly (P < 0.05) greater in mature-stage eastern hemlock (8.2%) than in juvenile-stage growth (7.3%), but no differences existed between crude protein levels of the red cedar growth stages. Protein-precipitating phenolics were present at low levels but were 1.5 times more concentrated in mature-stage growth of eastern hemlock than in juvenile-stage growth (P < 0.05). Comparison of our results with previous research indicates that white-tailed deer exhibit stage-dependent selection of temperate plants similar to the patterns demonstrated by other species of mammals browsing on plants in boreal forests.
Robert K. Swihart and Peter M. Picone "Selection of Mature Growth Stages of Coniferous Browse in Temperate Forests by White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)," The American Midland Naturalist 139(2), (1 April 1998). https://doi.org/10.1674/0003-0031(1998)139[0269:SOMGSO]2.0.CO;2
Received: 11 January 1997; Accepted: 1 July 1997; Published: 1 April 1998
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