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Snakes, salamanders and other creatures thrive in areas with higher deer populations

COLUMBUS, Ohio Reducing the number of deer in forests and parks may unexpectedly reduce the number of reptiles, amphibians and insects in that area, new research suggests.

A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University and National Park Service found that higher deer activity is modifying forest ecosystems in unexpected ways. Out of several species of snakes, salamanders, and invertebrates studied, a greater diversity of animals were found in areas with deer populations than were in areas with no deer activity.

The study, which comes at a time when many states have begun to selectively control deer populations, challenges previous research that has suggested deer populations can negatively impact forest ecosystems through eating plants that many smaller animals may depend on.

Instead, researchers found that high numbers of deer may in fact be attracting a greater number of species. This may be because their waste creates a more nutrient-rich soil and as a result, areas with deer draw higher numbers of insects and other invertebrates. These insects then attract larger predators which thrive on insect lava such as salamanders, and the salamanders in turn attract even larger predators such as snakes.

The results, which were published recently in The Journal of Wildlife Management, highlight how recent attempts to control deer populations in and around forests may indirectly affect other animals in the forest.

"By just reducing the number of deer in the forest, we're actually indirectly impacting forest ecosystems without even knowing the possible effects," said Katherine Greenwald, co-author of the study and doctoral student in evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at Ohio State.

"Smaller creatures like salamanders and insects are all part of the base of a larger food web that can be affected by small changes."

Research was conducted in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a

Contact: Katherine Greenwald
Ohio State University

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Snakes, salamanders and other creatures thrive in areas with higher deer populations
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