Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Science (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Christopher R Webster


Ungulates are important components of a variety of ecosystems worldwide. This dissertation integrates aspects of ungulate and forest ecology to increase our understanding of how they work together in ways that are of interest to natural resource managers, educators, and those who are simply curious about nature. Although animal ecology and ecosystem ecology are often studied separately, one of the general goals of this dissertation is to examine how they interact across spatial and temporal scales. Forest ecosystems are heterogeneous across a range of scales. Spatial and temporal habitat use patterns of forest ungulates tend to be congregated in patches where food and/or cover are readily available. Ungulates interact with ecosystem processes by selectively foraging on plants and excreting waste products in concentrated patches. Positive feedbacks may develop where these activities increase the value of habitat through soil fertilization or the alteration of plant chemistry and architecture. Heterogeneity in ecosystem processes and plant community structure, observed at both stand and local scales, may be the integrated outcome of feedbacks between ungulate behavior and abiotic resource gradients.

The first chapter of this dissertation briefly discusses pertinent background information on ungulate ecology, with a focus on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the Upper Great Lakes region and moose (Alces acles) in Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA. The second chapter demonstrates why ecological context is important for studying ungulate ecology in forest ecosystems. Excluding deer from eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) stands, which deer use primarily as winter cover, resulted in less spatial complexity in soil reactive nitrogen and greater complexity in diffuse light compared to unfenced stands. The spatial patterning of herbaceous-layer cover was more similar to nitrogen where deer were present, and was a combination of nitrogen and light within deer exclosures. This relationship depends on the seasonal timing of deer habitat use because deer fertilize the soil during winter, but leave during the growing season. The third chapter draws upon an eight-year, 39-stand data set of deer fecal pellet counts in hemlock stands to estimate the amount of nitrogen that deer are depositing in hemlock stands each winter. In stands of high winter deer use, deer-excreted nitrogen inputs consistently exceeded those of atmospheric deposition at the stand scale. At the neighborhood scale, deer-excreted nitrogen was often in excess of atmospheric deposition due to the patchy distribution of deer habitat use. Spatial patterns in habitat use were consistent over the eight-year study at both stand and neighborhood scales. The fourth chapter explores how foraging selectivity by moose interacts with an abiotic resource gradient to influence forest structure and composition. Soil depth on Isle Royale varies from east to west according to glacial history. Fir saplings growing in deeper soils on the west side are generally more palatable forage for moose (lower foliar C:N) than those growing in shallower soils on the east side. Therefore, saplings growing in better conditions are less likely to reach the canopy due to moose browsing, and fir is a smaller overstory component on the west side. Lastly, chapter five focuses on issues surrounding eastern hemlock regeneration failure, which is a habitat type that is important to many wildlife species. Increasing hemlock on the landscape is complicated by several factors including disturbance regime and climate change, in addition to the influence of deer.