Herbivores can have nonconsumptive effects on ecosystems, including the redistribution of nutrients in their waste. In tallgrass prairie bison (Bison bison) historically increased soil nitrogen availability via labile waste deposits. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are now the dominant native large herbivore in prairie and have been shown to consume higher nutrient-content plants than those preferred by bison. Deer are also edge-dwelling species that reuse the trails they make as they move and browse throughout the prairie. Therefore, deer may differ from bison in their spatial patterns of nutrient content and redistribution of fecal matter. We examined the nutrient content and spatial distribution of deer pellets by measuring the number of deer pellet piles along deer trails and transects that were systematically placed at the forest border and in open prairie. We also measured the nitrogen content of deer pellets. White-tailed deer pellets had twofold greater nitrogen concentrations (3.43% N and 40.8% C) compared to values reported for bison fecal matter. Deer pellet piles were more concentrated on deer trails compared to the transects, resulting in fourfold greater N inputs on deer trails compared to areas off of trails. As a result, White-tailed deer have the potential to create patches of increased nutrient availability through their clumped distribution of nutrient rich fecal matter, with potential consequences for prairie plant communities.
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