Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cloudy Day at the Fen

High temperatures on Friday hovered around 70 with a thick cloud cover and a threat of rain. We spent the day sampling deer exclosures, being consumed by a multitude of ticks, and hiking through thick vegetation made possible by all the moisture the Ozarks received in the spring. This year's sampling event marked the sixth year in a row for these plots in recent history, with the plots located in the area's primary natural communities: a prairie fen, a dolomite glade, and a dry mesic woodland. The fen, a designated natural area, possesses the more uncommon vegetation for the region including Grass Pink orchids and Queen of the Prairie. Unfortunately, the burgeoning deer herds seem to congregate in high numbers here, which means the browse impacts on quality fen vegetation are significant.

It seems that I'm simply writing testimony by continuing to collect data in this area. Every year, I've made notes of the browse impacts outside the exclosure, the changes in vegetation outside the exclosure compared to the protected interior, and which species seem to be preferred by the browsing ungulates. Last year, I took a series of photos of Eupatorium perfoliatum, Aster azureus, Senecio aureus, and Rudbeckia fulgida that had been browsed so severely that they could not flower, the flowering heads snipped off and all the leaves and stalks browsed to a nub. It was difficult to even identify these species. The deer browse pressure has been too great for too long on the fen forbs; this year, the forbs were notably absent from the transects outside the exclosure.

Similarly at the glade exclosure, the protected interior harbored significantly more species, and less ruderal species, than outside. Silphium integrifolium dominated outside the exclosure with a thick mat of Croton monanthogynus beneath. In two quadrats, even the less palatable Silphium had been browsed out of desperation. Other deer browse increasers like Geum canadense dominated the sampling sheets.

At the end of the day, over 100 ticks later, I can confidently proclaim that we have a serious deer problem, a pronouncement with data to back it up.

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