Despite the widespread interest in plant community restoration, few studies have assessed white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimm.) herbivory on herbaceous species and even fewer studies have focused on deer herbivory in restored plant communities. During 2007–2009, we investigated the effect of deer density and associated deer browse on two restored forest and three restored savanna plant communities in Lake County, Illinois. We used 300 small (1.4 m diameter × 1.6 m height) exclosed plots and 1-m2 unexclosed plots to compare the effects of deer herbivory on forbs. We quantified and compared percent non-herbaceous ground cover, species diversity, species evenness, and floristic quality between exclosed plots and unexclosed plots, as well as among preserves within each plant community type. Species diversity and floristic quality of forbs may be maximized at a deer density between 6–22 deer km2 in restored forest communities in northeastern Illinois. Floristic quality was higher in exclosed plots compared to unexclosed plots at all savanna sites. In both plant communities, species evenness may have increased with higher deer density due to an increase in non-preferred plants and non-native species invading locations where preferred native forbs were chronically consumed. Our results highlight the importance of assessing the species diversity, evenness, and floristic quality of target plant communities to determine the impact of deer herbivory at varying deer densities.
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