Comparative Effects on Plants of Caribou/Reindeer, Moose and White-tailed Deer Herbivory


  • Michel Crête
  • Jean-Pierre Ouellet
  • Louis Lesage



caribou, forage, herbivory, moose, reindeer, vegetation, white-tailed deer, wolf


We reviewed the literature reporting negative or positive effects on vegetation of herbivory by caribou/reindeer, moose, and white-tailed deer in light of the hypothesis of exploitation ecosystems (EEH), which predicts that most of the negative impacts will occur in areas where wolves were extirpated. We were able to list 197 plant taxa negatively affected by the three cervid species, as opposed to 24 that benefited from their herbivory. The plant taxa negatively affected by caribou/reindeer (19), moose (37), and white-tailed deer (141) comprised 5%, 9%, and 11% of vascular plants present in their respective ranges. Each cervid affected mostly species eaten during the growing season: lichens and woody species for caribou/reindeer, woody species and aquatics for moose, and herbs and woody species for white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer were the only deer reported to feed on threatened or endangered plants. Studies related to damage caused by caribou/reindeer were scarce and often concerned lichens. Most reports for moose and white-tailed deer came from areas where wolves were absent or rare. Among the three cervids, white-tailed deer might damage the most vegetation because of its smaller size and preference for herbs.