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Investigating the Role of Deer and Moose Browsing in Disturbed and Undisturbed Forests in Southern New England

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Over the past 20 years, moose have spread south from Vermont and New Hampshire and recolonized their pre-historical range limit in southern New England. Intensive moose browsing in the boreal forest (each animal browsing, on average, >40 lbs of plant material per day) has caused declines in forest density and shifts in species composition in some areas, generating considerable interest and concern among foresters, wildlife managers, and ecologists.

Harvard Forest, in collaboration with researchers at the USGS Massachusetts Cooperative Research Unit, has initiated a long-term study of the role of moose and deer in Southern New England forests using experimental exclosures. The fence exclosures, the first of which were constructed in 2008, are located in recently harvested conifer plantation sites at Harvard Forest and the Quabbin and Ware River Watershed Forests.

The experimental design involves replicates of three treatments, each 20x20 meters:

  • full exclosure (prevents moose and deer from entering the area and browsing)
  • partial exclosure (2-foot gap allows deer to browse freely but excludes moose)
  • open plot (no fence) 

The experiment enables us determine which plants are most affected by deer and moose browsing, and thus, to understand how increasing populations of these animals impacts forest regeneration. In 2011, the study expanded to include unharvested forests and forests impacted by the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Flashless digital wildlife cameras were installed on the moose and deer exclosures in 2008. Learn more, and view the wildlife camera photos.

This project is a part of the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Program.