The presence of wolves leads to spatial differentiation in deer browsing pressure on forest regeneration

From Scientific Reports:

With the recent return of large carnivores to forest ecosystems, an important issue for forest owners and managers is how large predators influence the behaviour of their natural prey and, consequently, cervid browsing pressure on forest regeneration. To investigate this issue, we analysed deer pressure on Scots pine and European beech plantations in northern Poland’s ecosystems with and without permanent wolf populations. Two characteristics were used to describe deer browsing patterns in plantations: distance from the forest edge (spatial pattern of browsing) and number of saplings browsed (browsing intensity). Beech saplings were more intensively browsed by deer compared to pine saplings. In a forest ecosystem not inhabited by wolves, spatial variation in browsing patterns on small-sized beech plantations was the same between the edge and the center. In contrast, browsing pressure by deer was greater at the edges on large-sized pine plantations. The presence of wolves reduced deer browsing on beech and increased browsing on pine saplings. In addition, deer foraging behaviour changed in large-sized pine plantations, and browsing pressure increased only in the central areas of the plantations. We assume that the presence of wolves in a forest landscape is an important factor that alters browsing pressure on the youngest stands and their spatial pattern, and that this may be a major factor in stand regeneration, especially in small forest patches.


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