If you are an ecologically minded person, then you have undoubtedly read or heard that deer have profoundly negative impacts on forest ecosystems.
It is unlikely, however, that you have heard that deer, by consuming tall, thickly growing woody plants, often increase the diversity of the smaller-statured plant community. This latter scenario is a key result from a 2016 study by Highstead’s senior ecologist Ed Faison along with Steve DeStefano (Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit) and other colleagues, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
This study documented the effects of 5-6 years of three different levels of browsing by deer and moose on the composition of young forests re-growing after timber harvest. Results also showed that higher intensities of browsing promoted the abundance of plant species adapted to high light environments and reduced the abundance of plant species adapted to shady forests.
Browsing by deer and moose is best understood as a natural and complex ecological interaction that has a variety of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ impacts on forests, rather than as a process that simply damages forests.