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Modeling recent bark stripping by red deer (Cervus elaphus) in South Belgium coniferous stands

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Over the past few decades, the impact of large herbivorous ungulates on forest vegetation has been clearly highlighted. Among those impacts, bark stripping of coniferous trees is one of the most damaging. Bark stripping leads to rot development, inducing serious loss of timber value.


The present study aimed firstly at evidencing the factors explaining the variations observed in fresh bark peeling rate for spruce and Douglas-fir in southern Belgium and secondly at identifying the key factors to consider when setting up a deer management plan.


Fresh bark peeling rate was recorded with a systematic sampling survey from 2004 to 2007. The covered territory was then divided into 63 distinct hunting zones of area ranging from 1,000 to 25,000 ha. About 5,000 plots were monitored annually. Each zone was characterized with a large number of explanatory variables. The explanatory variables were integrated firstly into fixed linear models using a stepwise procedure, and then into a mixed model.


The significant variables included in the model (R 2 = 44 %) are (by decreasing order of importance) red deer densities, proportion of coniferous stands and agricultural areas, snow cover, distance to urban habitats, and species diversity in the understory.


The models revealed the impacts of several factors on bark peeling: deer density, deer-carrying capacity of the territory, landscape structure, and severity of winter conditions. The adjusted model allowed subtracting the impact of winter conditions in order to produce a relevant indicator for hunting management. In addition, the model was used to assess the sensitivity of a forested area to bark peeling based on its environmental characteristics.

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We wish to thank the nonprofit association Forêt Wallonne, and in particular engineers Delphine Arnal and Cédric Daine, for their follow-up work on the field inventory, as well as all the employees working for the DNF forest services for carrying out the field survey. They also express their gratitude to both Hugues Lecomte (Walloon Permanent Forest Resources Inventory) and Pascal Mormal (Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium) for making valuable data available.


This study was financially supported by the Walloon Region’s Public Service—Direction générale opérationnelle Agriculture, Ressources Naturelles et Environnement de la Région wallonne—under the Framework Agreement for Forest Research and Extension and by the FRS-FNRS through a grant awarded to G. Ligot.

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Correspondence to Philippe Lejeune.

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Handling Editor: Gilbert Aussenac

Contribution of the co-authors

Gauthier Ligot: writing the paper, running data analysis. Thibaut Gheysen: designing the experiment, running data analysis. François Lehaire: discussing the results. Jacques Hebert: supervising the work. Alain Licoppe: supervising the work (delimitation of hunting zones). Philippe Lejeune: coordinating the research, writing the paper. Yves Brostaux: supervising the work, running statistical analysis.

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Ligot, G., Gheysen, T., Lehaire, F. et al. Modeling recent bark stripping by red deer (Cervus elaphus) in South Belgium coniferous stands. Annals of Forest Science 70, 309–318 (2013).

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