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Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity
Date:3/11/2014

PITTSBURGHToo much garlic mustard in your neighborhood forest? Actually, the problem may be too many deer.

A research team led by Susan Kalisz, professor of evolutionary ecology in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Biological Sciences, published a paper online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that takes a long view on why invasive garlic mustard plants thrive to the detriment of native species.

The study, initiated in 2003 at the Trillium Trail Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, Pa., concludes that an overpopulation of deer (density of deer in the U.S. is about four to 10 times what it was prior to European settlement of North America) is the primary reason garlic mustard is crowding out native plants, such as trillium, which are preferred food for wild deer.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a plant native to Europe and Asia and is inedible by deer standards. It was brought to the United StatesLong Island, N.Y., specificallyin the 1860s for use as a kitchen herb.

Instead it became a menace, colonizing forest floors in the Eastern U.S. and Canada and has been found in Washington, Utah, and British Columbia, achieving the dubious distinction of being one of very few non-native plants to successfully invade forest understories. The persistence of garlic mustard greatly reduces forest biodiversity.

To study the effect of rampant deer on trillium and garlic mustard populations, Kalisz and colleagues established multiple 196-square-meter plots in the forest. Half were fenced to exclude deer. Years of observation and hours of statistical analysis later, Kalisz and her colleagues have found that in plots where deer were excluded, the trillium population is increasing and the garlic mustard population is trending toward zero.

"This demonstrates that the high population growth rate of the invader is caused by the high abundance of deer," she says. This effect is
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Contact: Joseph Miksch
jmiksch@pitt.edu
412-997-0314
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert

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