Deer have expanded their range and increased dramatically in abundance worldwide in recent decades. They inflict major economic losses in forestry, agriculture, and transportation and contribute to the transmission of several animal and human diseases. Their impact on natural ecosystems is also dramatic but less quantified. By foraging selectively, deer affect the growth and survival of many herb, shrub and tree species, modifying patterns of relative abundance and vegetation dynamics. Cascading effects on other species extend to insects, birds and other mammals. In forests, sustained overbrowsing reduces plant cover and diversity, alters nutrient and carbon cycling, and redirects succession to shift future overstory composition. Many of these simplified alternative states appear to be stable and difficult to reverse. Given the influence of deer on other organisms and natural processes, ecologists should actively participate in efforts to understand, monitor and reduce the impact of deer on ecosystems.
Cote, S.D., Rooney, T.P., Tremblay, J, Dussalt, C. & Waller, D.M. (2004) Ecological impacts of deer overabundance. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 35,113-47.