Does Supplemental Feeding of Deer Degrade Vegetation? A Literature Review

Artificially feeding deer is controversial, particularly in North America. Our objective was to determine if published literature supports the hypothesis that supplemental feeding of deer leads to overuse of palatable plants and vegetation degradation. We found 16 papers regarding the feeding of deer through a search of the literature since 1989. Recent studies have not provided conclusive evidence that supplemental feeding of deer enables herbivores to concentrate feeding on the most palatable native foods in their environment or that it results in degradation of vegetation within the area. Providing supplemental feed does promote localized vegetation degradation by congregating animals near feeders. Long-term research is particularly needed in semi-arid and arid regions where supplemental feeding of deer is commonly practiced to determine effects of deer supplemented with artificial feeds on vegetation dynamics at the landscape level and to determine how localized overuse of vegetation near feeders influences ecosystem processes. Research should move towards devising strategies to improve nutritional quality and survival of deer without the vegetative effects that supplemental feeding programs may provide.

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