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White-tailed Deer and Southwestern CT Forests

Ecology Research > Deer Forest Interactions > White-tailed Deer and Southwestern CT Forests

Deer With Rack

Prior to European settlement, white-tailed deer were the most abundant large mammal in southern New England. Intensive hunting by European settlers greatly reduced the deer population, and throughout much of the 19th and early 20th century, these animals were absent or rare.

In the past 50 years, deer populations have made a dramatic recovery, benefitting from strict hunting regulations, forest fragmentation, and the loss of large predators like wolves and mountain lions. The recovering deer population has, in turn, become an important disturbance process in parts of the region such as southwestern CT. Much of what is known about deer-forest relationships in Connecticut, however, draws from anecdote and conventional wisdom rather than empirical evidence, complicating thoughtful discussions about deer management and ecology.

We study the effects of deer on forests both at Highstead and in the greater Redding landscape. We use approaches that manipulate deer activity levels (experimental deer exclosures) and capture natural variation in deer activity. We also partner with the Town of Redding and the Town of Ridgefield to assess the effectiveness of current deer management regimes on forest understories on town conservation properties.

Current Research Projects

1. The effects of deer on the structure, diversity, and composition of a southwestern CT forest
2. The Influence of deer, cutting, and site conditions on the sprouting success of Kalmia latifolia
3. The effects of deer management on forest understory dynamics in southwestern CT
4. The interactions of deer browsing and storm-induced canopy gaps on tree regeneration in western CT

Other Collaborators and Partners:

Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
The Steep Rocks Association