New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2005) 29(2): 271- 277

Effects of red deer on tree regeneration and growth in Aorangi Forest, Wairarapa

Research Article
Sean W. Husheer 1,*
Q. W. (Joe) Hansen 2
Stephen C. Urlich 3,4
  1. New Zealand Forest Surveys, 15 McElwee Street, Napier, New Zealand
  2. Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 191, Masterton, New Zealand
  3. Department of Conservation, P.O Box 5086, Wellington, New Zealand
  4. Current Address: Land Information New Zealand, Private Bag 4721, Christchurch, New Zealand

New Zealand forests have been substantially modified by introduced red deer over the past century. New Zealand’s indigenous forest managers need to know if regeneration of palatable tree species can be restored following control or eradication of browsing ungulates. Aorangi Forest, Wairarapa, suffered dramatic changes in forest understorey composition by the 1950s after more than seven decades of colonisation by red deer (Cervus elaphus), feral goats (Capra hircus) and pigs (Sus scrofa). Since then feral goats have been eradicated, but red deer and pigs persist throughout Aorangi Forest despite ongoing recreational hunting. This study uses data from paired fenced and unfenced plots established at seven sites in Aorangi Forest between 1981 and 1987, and re-measured in 2004, to show the effects of ungulates on tree (≥ 2 cm diameter at breast height) regeneration and growth. Our results show that browsing by red deer has prevented regeneration of kanono (Coprosma grandifolia), a highly palatable, fast-growing sub-canopy hardwood tree. Deer reduced the growth of mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus) trees, probably by directly browsing epicormic shoots. The regeneration of other less palatable sub-canopy trees (e.g. porokaiwhiri, Hedycarya arborea), and slower-growing canopy species (e.g. hinau, Elaeocarpus dentatus and rewarewa, Knightia excelsa) appears to have been unaffected by deer browsing. Accordingly, tree species composition does not appear to have been greatly affected by browsing from deer populations in Aorangi Forest over the past two decades.