We examined the role of suburban white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman) in dispersal of exotic plants in forests bordered by medium-density housing in southern Connecticut. Estimated deer density on the research site was 23 deer/km2 with higher local densities along the suburban/woodland interface. In 2002, 90 pellet groups were gathered periodically from September through December. In 2003, eight pellet groups were collected weekly from early June through late December for a total of 236. All pellet groups were vernalized at 5°C for 60 days. Pellet groups were placed in a growing medium in trays in a temperature controlled greenhouse for six months. Seeds germinated from 47% of pellet groups, which included 656 seedlings of 57 species. Seeds (n = 326) of 32 species not native to Connecticut germinated in 23% of pellet groups. We estimated that the deer herd on site had the potential to disperse 586-1046 viable exotic seeds/day/km2 during the 2002 sampling period and 390-696 viable exotic seeds/day/km2 during the 2003 sampling period. Birds, small mammals, and abiotic factors are known dispersal agents for exotic plants, some of which are invasive. Our results indicate that white-tailed deer are another important dispersal agent of exotic species. Thus, white-tailed deer may not only alter vegetation structure through direct browse damage of established plants, but also indirectly by lowering reproductive output of native plants and simultaneously distributing seeds of exotic species.
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