Other Denizens of the College Woods

Part of what makes deer overpopulation such a problem is that the damage is not restricted to plant communities. The deer themselves suffer. The higher the population, the more likely diseases are to spread among the deer and the worse these diseases tend to be. The deer are also more likely to starve during the winter if they’ve eaten all of the perennial plants before the early spring growth starts up again. Even more important, by taking out the base of the food chain, over-browsing by deer removes habitat and food needed by other organisms. Once one animal species starts declining because of this, the other species that rely on the first animal for food start being affected as well. If this happens with enough species, it will begin to change the composition of the ecosystem as a whole.

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Albino Plants vs Parasitic Plants

One of the really neat things about doing this field research is that I’ve been able to see things that I’ve learned about in class, but that I’ve never seen in person before. Two of these are albino plants and parasitic plants that naturally lack chlorophyll.

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Experimental Plots

Both exhausting, in-the-full-Virginia-heat sampling sessions are over for the summer, so now I finally have time to talk about the interesting things I’ve learned and come across during my research this semester! For those who don’t remember my abstract, I am studying the effects that deer overpopulation is having on plant communities in the College Woods. To do this, I’m comparing the number of individuals and the types of species present in deer excluded plots versus deer open plots.

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Forest Recovery after Release from White-tailed Deer Browsing

White-tailed deer populations in the United States are currently skyrocketing, especially on the East Coast. Human activity has eliminated the apex predators in most of these areas and, combined with the decrease in hunting in the last few decades, has released white-tailed deer populations from most constraints. Researchers have seen multiple issues arise along with this increase in population, including an increase in tick-borne diseases and deer-related car accidents (Russel et al. 2001; DeNicola and Williams 2008). In addition to these problems, a high deer population has been connected to a decrease in population densities of deer-favored plants, and certain floral populations have even been eaten to extinction. Williamsburg is one such location where deer populations have been increasing as plant populations decrease. The College Woods has seen a marked decrease in plant density over the past decade, and some of the rarer plants have disappeared entirely (Cyrus 2016).

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