As a result of game management practices and alterations in habitat, white-tailed deer populations (Odocoileus virginianus Z.) have increased to all time highs within the last century. Large herd numbers are having negative impacts at multiple levels in forest ecosystems, although there are many aspects that have not yet been investigated. One of the least understood impacts is the effect of deer browsing on the fate of valuable harvested understory species such as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.). The objectives of this study were to quantify the natural frequency at which fruit-bearing ginseng plants are browsed by deer, to determine the amount of ginseng seeds consumed by deer and with feeding trials, to determine if white-tailed deer are seed dispersers or seed predators of American ginseng. Our results showed that fruits are frequently browsed in natural populations and that browsed seeds are most likely destroyed during the digestive process. The loss of ginseng seeds to deer browsing can negatively impact the seed bank and ultimately affect long term population growth and viability. Although white-tailed deer and American ginseng are managed species, effective growth of deer populations is adversely affecting ginseng, as well as other valuable forest species.
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Vol. 152 • No. 2