Wildlands & Woodlands Website

Highstead works to inspire curiosity and build knowledge about plants and wooded landscapes in order to enhance life, preserve nature, and advance sound stewardship practices.

White-tailed Deer and Southwestern CT Forests

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

Deer With Rack

White-tailed deer were the most abundant large mammal in the northeast at the time of European settlement. Subsistence and, later, market hunting by European settlers greatly reduced deer populations, and throughout much of the 19th and early 20th century, this species was absent or rare.

In the past 50 years, deer populations have made a dramatic recovery throughout the eastern forest, benefitting from hunting regulations, forest fragmentation, warmer winters, and the loss of large predators like wolves and mountain lions.

20-year old deer exclosure at Highstead showing plant community dominated by grasses and sedges outside fence and by tall forbs such as jewelweed and asters inside fence.

Herbivory is a fundamental ecological interaction, and deer – via foraging, trampling, and seed dispersal – play an important and often complex role in shaping the structure and composition of temperate forests. We study how deer alter forests at Highstead and in the greater Redding landscape using fenced exclosures, enabling comparison of vegetation protected and exposed to deer.

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. Using DNA analysis to determine the proportion of native vs. non-native plants in deer diets (led by Smithsonian Institution)


Aquarion Water Company
Smithsonian Institution
Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Harvard Forest