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Hipp, Andrew
Hahn, Marlene
Begley-Miller, Danielle
Brown, Bethany H.
Rooney, Thomas

White-tailed deer are a biotic filter during community assembly, reducing species and phylogenetic diversity

Date created
Community assembly entails a filtering process, where species found in a local community are those that can pass through environmental (abiotic) and biotic filters and successfully compete. Previous research has demonstrated the ability of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to reduce species diversity and favour browse-tolerant plant communities. In this study, we expand on our previous work by investigating deer as a possible biotic filter altering local plant community assembly. We used replicated 23-year-old deer exclosures to experimentally assess the effects of deer on species diversity (H′), richness (SR), phylogenetic community structure and phylogenetic diversity in paired browsed (control) and unbrowsed (exclosed) plots. Additionally, we developed a deer-browsing susceptibility index (DBSI) to assess the vulnerability of local species to deer. Deer browsing caused a 12 % reduction in H′ and 17 % reduction in SR, consistent with previous studies. Furthermore, browsing reduced phylogenetic diversity by 63 %, causing significant phylogenetic clustering. Overall, graminoids were the least vulnerable to deer browsing based on DBSI calculations. These findings demonstrate that deer are a significant driver of plant community assembly due to their role as a selective browser, or more generally, as a biotic filter. This study highlights the importance of knowledge about the plant tree of life in assessing the effects of biotic filters on plant communities. Application of such knowledge has considerable potential to advance our understanding of plant community assembly.