Into the Woods… – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Into the Woods…

When the HWS biology department was approached by a local land owner concerned for deer and woods in the area, the Colleges responded. The department sent one of its professors and two HWS students to conduct research during this summer, hoping to determine the effect of deer on forest plants. Professor of Biology Beth Newell, a specialist in plant ecology, has been joined by biology major Rebecca Jones ’09 and biochemistry major Andrew Dann ’10 in investigating Alan Poole’s concerns about the impact of deer on his family’s land. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to work in these diverse woods,” Newell said, referring to the woods on the Poole property. The initial research began last May and has been continued by this summer’s team. “We’ve excluded deer from two areas within the woods and are comparing plants in those areas to areas where deer are free to forage. “We’re just beginning to mine the data,” explained Newell. “When we’re conducting field research, students are identifying tree seedlings and other understory plants and are comparing their densities in fenced and unfenced areas of the woods,” said Newell. “They have documented a considerably higher density of sugar maple seedlings in the fenced areas compared to the controls. This shows that deer are certainly impacting the regeneration of woody plants, especially sugar maple.” Newell adds that, “The deer seem to have the biggest impact on the regeneration of trees, but they may also be affecting woodland herbs such as trillium.” Because deer are hunted on the Poole property, deer densities may be lower there than in other local areas. “If we find an effect of deer on vegetation in these woods, we’ll know that the impact is even greater in woods where no hunting is allowed,” commented Newell. To test that hypothesis, the team is examining the impact of deer on sugar maple regeneration at the Colleges’ Hanley Preserve in Seneca County. No hunting is allowed in the Preserve and deer populations are thought to be much higher there. Newell would like to continue studying the effect of deer on Poole’s woods. “Although our summer research only lasts eight weeks, we hope that our research will continue for at least four more years,” she said.