William Pentland, Contributor, Forbes
8/28/2013 @ 1:37PM
The rapidly rising population of white-tailed deer pose a more significant threat to forest habitats across the eastern United States than global warming, according to a new study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
“White-tailed deer likely impact every landscape east of the Mississippi River,” said the TNC. “The damage has been insidious — both slow moving and cumulative.”
Deer overpopulation results in overfeeding on select plant species, which can quickly alter the composition and structure of forests.
The study claims that that white-tailed deer inflict more damage on habitat integrity in the eastern United States than any other native vertebrate species.
“In our opinion, no other threat to forested habitats is greater at this point in time — not lack of fire, not habitat conversion, not climate change. Only invasive exotic insects and disease have been comparable in magnitude,” the TNC said. “While we acknowledge that climate change is a long-term stressor that will lead to significant changes in eastern forest ecosystems, high deer populations have had a much greater negative impact currently and over the last several decades.”
Similar studies by the U.S. Forest Service have reached similar conclusions about the adverse impact of deer overpopulation on the native habitat.
In addition, high-density deer population have had an indirect effect on local wildlife.
One study concluded that deer overpopulation in Pennsylvania had resulted in widespread declines of North forest songbirds in North America, which commonly nest in the shrub and lower canopy.