RELVA Maria Andrea
Patterns of use and damage by exotic deer on native plant communities in northwestern Patagonia
BARRIOS GARCIA MOAR, M. N.; RELVA, M.A.; KITZBERGER, T.
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE RESEARCH
Lugar: New York; Año: 2012 vol. 58 p. 137 - 146
Ungulate overabundance can strongly alter composition and structure of forest communities through selective damage independently of the herbivory history of the recipient system. In the early 1900s, red and fallow deer (Cervus elaphus and Dama dama, respectively) were introduced to northwestern Patagonia. We studied patterns of relative habitat use, damage, and species selection by introduced deer populations in three major plant communities that have the longest history of invasion in the region. We also evaluated community structure and composition characteristics as possible explanatory factors for the observed patterns of browsing, fraying, and bark-stripping. At the species level, exotic deer browsed more than expected on two evergreen species (Austrocedrus chilensis and Schinus patagonicus) and two spiny species (Colletia hystrix and Dasyphyllum diacanthoides), while one dominant shrubland tree (Lomatia hirsuta) was selected for fraying and barkstripping. Browsing was the more widespread damage in all plant communities, while fraying and bark-stripping occurred at low incidence. Furthermore, species identity was found as the main driver of deer damage over plant community type. Finally, variation in damage and in habitat use was explained by community structure and composition characteristics. Bark-stripping and fraying are best predicted by community composition, whereas browsing and habitat use are best predicted by structural properties including understory cover, cover of fallen logs, and tree density. The patterns of damage and the association with community structure characteristics reported here provide insight for developing management strategies.