Abrupt height growth setbacks show overbrowsing of tree saplings, which can be reduced by raising deer harvest

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Claudia Jordan-Fragstein - , Chair of Forest Protection (Second author)
  • Kai Bödecker - , Technical University of Munich (First author)
  • Torsten Vor - , University of Göttingen (Second author)
  • Christian Ammer - , University of Göttingen (Second author)
  • Thomas Knoke - , Technical University of Munich (Author)


Intensive ungulate browsing significantly impacts forests worldwide. However, it is usually not single browsing events that lead to sapling mortality, but the little-researched interactions of browsed saplings with their biotic and abiotic environment. (I) Our objective was to assess the impact of ungulate browsing on the growth of young saplings relative to other environmental factors by utilizing their height increment as a sensitive measure of vitality to indicate their status. (II) Furthermore, we aimed to identify factors affecting ungulate browsing at our study sites, assessed as browsing probabilities, and identify effective mitigation measures for browsing impact. We analyzed an extensive sapling dataset of 248 wildlife exclosures, which were erected in 2016 in beech dominated forests across Germany and assessed annually until 2020. (I) Browsing probability and light availability were the most influential parameters for selectively browsed, admixed tree species (e.g., sycamore maple). Height increment showed abrupt setbacks, which caused a permanent collapse of growth when browsing exceeded a certain level. However, light availability enhanced height increment. (II) An increase in deer harvest reduced the browsing probability of selectively browsed species considerably. We conclude that the growth-inhibiting effect of ungulate browsing is a multifactorial phenomenon, which can be mitigated by silvicultural management and efficient hunting strategies.


Original languageEnglish
Article number12021
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2023

External IDs

Scopus 85165688926
PubMed 37491457


Subject groups, research areas, subject areas according to Destatis

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • Acer, Forests, Animals, Wild, Fagus, Animals, Deer