How Do White-Tailed Deer Change Ecosystems, Anyway?

Credit:  Robert Woeger ,  Unsplash Some facts about deer  An adult white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus , that might weigh between 100 and 150 pounds, must eat about 8-12 pounds of fresh forage every day. They eat a wide range of plants, from flowers to shrubs, to tree saplings, and in oak woodlands, acorns. All of these plants share the characteristic of a certain softness: deer lack upper front teeth, so their browsing involves a sort of mashing and tearing unlike the cutting and biting employed by many other herbivores, large and small, from rabbits to cows. It’s easy to identify deer-browsed areas, once you know the signs. Often there are browse lines at about four feet, below which everything looks as though it’s been trimmed—mature trees and bushes lack lower limbs and leaves, saplings remain stunted, if not eaten to the ground, and flowering plants have lost buds and flowers. In addition, there might be few flowering plants or shrubs, and a preponderance of grasses, sedges

Ecological Gardening

At one time all gardening was ecological, based on organic inputs and using mostly native plants. During the twentieth century, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and the standardized use of exotic plants, changed gardening practice to the extent that gardening could be very harmful to the ecosystem. Ecological gardening encompasses philosophy and practice that reverts to the old idea that a garden should be part of and work with nature to create beauty and grow food, using modern ecological knowledge and organic methods.

An ecological garden can be a 20,000-acre prairie restoration, a 100-acre organic farm, a 1/4-acre suburban yard, or a 25x125-foot city lot. Goals and methods may differ, but the central philosophy of managing the land while contributing to the health of the biotic community, or ecosystem, remains the same.

Some attributes of ecological gardens:
  • They are beautiful
  • They conserve, restore and repeat (echo) the local landscape
  • They are true to place and ecosystem
  • They use mostly or all native plants (except in agriculture)
  • They are sensitive to the needs of and provide habitat for other species
  • They build soil health
  • They use organic inputs and sequester carbon
  • They help manage water