We studied the effect of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) browsing and fire on diversity and number of prairie-forb flowering stems in a remnant tallgrass prairie in northern Illinois. Our study included two plots protected from deer browsing since 1992 and two unprotected plots. All plots were burned twice in late April of 1990 and 1991. Deer densities of 32–50 km−2 (1992–96) declined to 7–9 km−2 in 1998 and 1999 after controlled hunting. Similarity between protected and unprotected plots was initially 82%, declined to 49% during the period of high deer density, and increased to 68% in 2001 with managed hunting. Flowering stems for all forbs were tallied in 1998–2001. Diversity (Shannon index [H′] and effective number of stems [HO]) of flowering stems was higher on protected than on unprotected plots for all study years. Differences in composition and diversity between protected and unprotected plots were associated with interactions between fire and protection from deer browsing as measured by total number of flowering stems, which was significantly higher on protected than on unprotected plots in nonburn years (3.4–3.5-fold) but not in burn years (1.0–1.2-fold). The two leading species on protected plots (ashy sunflower [Helianthus mollis Lam.] and Culver's root [Veronicastrum virginicum (L.) Farw.]) tended to have fewer flowering stems in burn years and always had them in protected plots (54-fold and 70-fold higher in protected plots for the two species, respectively). For the second leading species on unprotected sites (wild quinine [Parthenium integrifolium L.]), the number of flowering stems was significantly higher in burn years (27-fold); however, there was no significant difference in the number of stems between protected and unprotected plots. These results show strong interactions between fire and deer-browsing disturbances in communities recovering from deer overabundance.
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