Plant Community Characteristics within an 18-year-old Deer Exclosure in Southern Mississippi

We recorded plant community characteristics in an 18-year-old, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) exclosure in the Lower Coastal Plain of Mississippi during summer 1996. The 0.4-ha exclosure was constructed in 1977 within upland pine (Pinus spp.) forest of the Leaf River Wildlife Management Area in Perry County, Mississippi. Surveys at the time of exclosure construction revealed that similar plant cover and species richness existed inside and outside of the exclosure. Surveys were conducted during 1996 along 8 37-m transects located inside and outside the exclosure. Forest canopy did not differ between exclosure and control sites. Exclosure habitat supported 59 plant species and unprotected control sites contained 43 plant species. Density and coverage of midstory vegetation were greater (/• < 0.0001) in exclosed sites than control sites. Deer forages, such as blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), hollies (Ilex spp.), and yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), exhibited higher midstory and ground coverages along exclosure transects than along control transects. Our data revealed effects of browsing on plant community structure, coverage, and species richness, and demonstrated potential long-term effects of high deer densities on native flora and plant community characteristics.

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