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The Northern White-Cedar Recruitment Bottleneck: Understanding the Effects of Substrate, Competition, and Deer Browsing

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Research Highlights: Regenerating northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis L.) is challenging throughout much of its range. This study attempts to relate differences in natural regeneration to standand seedbed-level factors. Background and Objectives: Lack of regeneration of northern white-cedar is often attributed to overbrowsing by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman) because white-cedar is a preferred winter browse species. However, there are many other factors that may contribute to regeneration failure for white-cedar including its specific seedbed requirements and competition from other, often faster-growing trees and shrubs. Materials and Methods: We surveyed five mature white-cedar stands in Wisconsin, USA that have had little to no management in the past 50+ years to find stem densities of natural white-cedar regeneration in three height classes. We also collected data at each stand on potential predictor variables including overstory attributes, competitive environment, seedbed, and browsing by deer. We used model selection to create separate models to predict stem density of each white-cedar regeneration height class. Results: None of the measures of deer browsing used in this study were found to be associated with white-cedar regeneration. Soil pH, competition from other seedlings and saplings, and stem density of white-cedar in the overstory were found to be potentially associated with white-cedar regeneration. Conclusions: While browsing by deer is likely a factor affecting white-cedar regeneration in many areas, this study highlights the challenge of quantifying deer browse effects, as well as showing that other factors likely contribute to the difficulty of regenerating white-cedar.


northern white-cedar; white-tailed deer; regeneration; competition; seedbed


Reuling, Laura F.; Kern, Christel C.; Kenefic, Laura S.; Bronson, Dustin R. 2019. The Northern White-Cedar Recruitment Bottleneck: Understanding the Effects of Substrate, Competition, and Deer Browsing. Forests. 10(6): 15 p.

Last updated on: July 2, 2019