Suppression of regeneration in New Zealand mountain beech forests is dependent on species of introduced deer.
We compared the impacts on forest regeneration of introduced sika (Cervus nippon) and red (Cervus elaphus) deer in New Zealand. Plot data were used to compare mountain beech (Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides) regeneration between a region with sika deer, and four regions without sika deer. All regions surveyed had red deer present. In the region where sika deer had been present for more than a decade, there was evidence of poor mountain beech seedling regeneration. In the four regions without sika deer, there was evidence of a strong regenerative response at stands with low occupancy by trees. When compared to larger deer species, sika deer have a digestive morphology allowing greater dietary versatility, which may result in them impeding forest regeneration where red deer do not. In contrast to mountain beech, some small-leaved shrub species may have been competitively advantaged by intensive browsing from sika deer. This is contra to a current view that small-leaved shrub species with interlacing branches were able to tolerate browsing from extinct ratite birds, but not introduced deer. Sika deer have been introduced into countries where other deer species are indigenous, such as Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Ireland and the United States of America. Because of their dietary advantage, sika deer may have a greater potential to impede forest regeneration and competitively exclude larger deer species, particularly at low basal area sites where impacts on tree regeneration are likely to be greatest.