An index for estimating forage quality for white-tailed deer across nine primary habitat types in Louisiana
Horrell, Levi Bennett
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Land managers and researchers are constantly striving to better manage habitat for sustainable deer herds. Producing an index to assess potential forage quality across different habitat types could prove valuable to improving habitat quality. I placed 570 plant sampling exclosures across 9 habitat types during January-March of 2011 and collected plant samples from each exclosure during summer 2011 and 2012. I dried each sample and then analyzed each for nutritional content, including crude protein, digestible energy, and minerals. I used a nutritional constraints model to predict deer-days of foraging capacity for each habitat type. I also used forage intake rates and reported diet qualities necessary for body maintenance to assess the quality of deer forage within each habitat type and then created an index based on the forage species composition that can be used to index deer nutrition at a given location. Following collection of data, I observed considerable variation in the nutritional characteristics across all habitat types as well as within the species collected. Early successional habitats as well as those managed with prescribed fire in Louisiana in the Northwest and Southeast Pine-Hardwood habitat types displayed a high forage index. Severe drought conditions during 2011 appeared to have had a significant negative impact on the nutritional quality of forages sampled.