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

51-square-mile park in northeastern Ohio with an estimated deer population of 2,300 to 4,600. The park's large population of deer and varying landscape made it an ideal place to test for the effects of these animals, she said.

Researchers studied the forest by pairing 12 unfenced sites with 12 fenced sites, called exclosures, based on similar habitat type, forest cover, soil type, and slope. The exclosures, which are used frequently to test for differences in plant growth between grazed and untouched areas, prevent deer from grazing in certain areas. Both unfenced and fenced areas measured 10 meters by 10 meters (approximately 33 feet by 33 feet).

Five square wood boards measuring almost one square foot (30 centimeters square) were placed in random spots in each fenced and unfenced site. These boards are placed on top of the soil and act as rocks or other ground cover for salamanders, slugs and other animals to hide under for protection.

The researchers then counted the number of invertebrates and vertebrates under each board every three to four weeks from May through December in 2004 and monthly from May through September the following year.

They identified a variety of species during the study including snakes, salamanders, earthworms, slugs, spiders, ants, beetles, and many more invertebrates. Species diversity was determined by comparing the variety of insect groups and invertebrates found in each area.

The results, Greenwald said, were completely unexpected.

"We thought the salamanders especially would be very sensitive to areas with deer because in those areas the whole undergrowth is basically gone. So we thought these creatures were going to be much more abundant in the fenced exclosures because it is just bursting with plants and other studies have shown that amphibians prefer damp, covered areas," she said.

Instead, they found that many of the species studied favored the unfenced areas w

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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