Naomi E. Davis, Ami Bennett, David M. Forsyth, David M. J. S. Bowman, Edward C. Lefroy, Samuel W. Wood, Andrew P. Woolnough, Peter West, Jordan O. Hampton and Christopher N. Johnson
Deer are among the world’s most successful invasive mammals and can have substantial deleterious impacts on natural and agricultural ecosystems. Six species have established wild populations in Australia, and the distributions and abundances of some species are increasing. Approaches to managing wild deer in Australia are diverse and complex, with some populations managed as ‘game’ and others as ‘pests’. Implementation of cost-effective management strategies that account for this complexity is hindered by a lack of knowledge of the nature, extent and severity of deer impacts. To clarify the knowledge base and identify research needs, we conducted a systematic review of the impacts and management of wild deer in Australia. Most wild deer are in south-eastern Australia, but bioclimatic analysis suggested that four species are well suited to the tropical and subtropical climates of northern Australia. Deer could potentially occupy most of the continent, including parts of the arid interior. The most significant impacts are likely to occur through direct effects of herbivory, with potentially cascading indirect effects on fauna and ecosystem processes. However, evidence of impacts in Australia is largely observational, and few studies have experimentally partitioned the impacts of deer from those of sympatric native and other introduced herbivores. Furthermore, there has been little rigorous testing of the efficacy of deer management in Australia, and our understanding of the deer ecology required to guide deer management is limited. We identified the following six priority research areas: (i) identifying long-term changes in plant communities caused by deer; (ii) understanding interactions with other fauna; (iii) measuring impacts on water quality; (iv) assessing economic impacts on agriculture (including as disease vectors); (v) evaluating efficacy of management for mitigating deer impacts; and (vi) quantifying changes in distribution and abundance. Addressing these knowledge gaps will assist the development and prioritisation of cost-effective management strategies and help increase stakeholder support for managing the impacts of deer on Australian ecosystems.