Broadening the ecological context of ungulate–ecosystem interactions: the importance of space, seasonality, and nitrogen

Broadening the ecological context of ungulate–ecosystem interactions: the importance of space, seasonality, and nitrogen
Ecology, June 2013

Where deer were present, patch sizes of ammonium availability, cover, and diversity were smaller compared to deer exclosures, whereas mean site-level effects were not significant. Within deer exclosures cover and solar radiation were more similar in patch size than were cover and nitrogen availability. Our results suggest that browsing ungulates affect spatial patterns of herb-layer cover and diversity through the excretion of nitrogenous wastes in small, discrete patches. Ungulate-excreted nitrogen deposition and herbivory were concentrated in the dormant season, allowing herb-layer plants a greater opportunity to benefit from nitrogen additions. Therefore, the impact of ungulates on nitrogen cycling in forest ecosystems varies with spatial scale and the seasonal timing of ungulate impacts. In this way, ungulates may function as a seasonally dependent link between fine-scale and landscape-level ecological processes.