Are Deer Pollinators?

Pollinators are any living or nonliving things that help with the pollination process, or the transportation of pollen grains from male plants to female plants. This article will help you learn about deer and answer the question: are deer pollinators?

Read more: What is Pollination?

Table of Contents

The Importance of Deer for Pollination

Are Deer Pollinators?

Deer (Cervidae) are herbivorous animals that eat leaves, twigs, nuts, grasses, mushrooms, fruits, and berries. They are considered one of the world’s “natural gardeners” because of their diet and feeding patterns. Deer not only plant seeds in different areas through their deposits, but they can also help with pollination. So, the answer to the question of whether deer are pollinators is yes.

are deer pollinators - young buck image
Source: Hammerchewer/Flickr

How Do Deer Contribute to Pollination?

When deer graze on plants and fruits, especially in the spring, pollen grains stick to their fur and spread to other plants as they walk around and feed on other plants in the area. Through this feeding activity, deer can contribute to pollination in a wide land area.

According to a 2010 study, there are more pollen grains deposited on stigma in deer-infested areas than in non-deer-infested ones. This shows that deer play an important role in the pollination process, benefiting the entire ecosystem. 

deer in field - are deer pollinators

Natural Habitat

Deer can be found in different countries around the world, and thus act as pollinators around the world as well. They are native to almost every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Today, many species of deer are being introduced to different habitats to replenish their population in certain areas, specifically for game hunting purposes. 

map of deer habitats - are deer pollinators
Locations around the world where deer are natively found.
Source: Phoenix_B_1of3/Wikimedia

Deer may act as pollinators in a variety of different biomes, including wetlands, deciduous forests, grasslands, rain forests, arid scrublands, and mountains. Deer typically go to open fields during the spring to feed on fresh new vegetation, which is mostly where they pollinate.

Characteristics and Behavior

There are roughly 50 different species of deer reported, but the numbers are still uncertain due to the lack of data on historical evolutionary development and diversity, and a lack of accurate species categorization.

Deer can be very large or very small depending on the species. Pudus are considered the smallest deer, as they only grow to about t 35 to 38 cm and only weigh 7.5 to 13 kg. The largest species of the deer family is the Alaskan moose, which can grow up to more than 7 feet from hooves to shoulder, and can weigh up to 820 kg. While it’s less common, even moose can act as pollinators if they transfer pollen from one field to another.

Male deer or “bucks” commonly have antlers while female deer, “does”, have none, except for caribou and reindeers, for which both bucks and does have antlers.

Deer are social animals that wander and move in groups known as herds. A dominant male often leads a herd with several females. However, males and females may have separate herds sometimes. Deer are most active in the mornings, where they spend their time mostly searching and grazing for food, and thus pollinating.

It’s also important to note that deer directly benefit from pollination, because as herbivores, they depend on plants for food (and all plants rely on pollination to reproduce).

Population Changes

Just a century ago, there were only around 1 million deer left in North America. This is due to the unregulated hunting and habitat loss that occurred throughout the 19th century. In response, the U.S. government passed laws that regulate deer hunting, while local government agencies spearheaded programs to relocate deer from different states to the areas where deer populations were declining. This is to ensure the replenishment of the deer population in different regions of the country. 

The regulation programs were a huge success, and today approximately 30 million deer can be found in North America. 

Though the increasing population of deer is positive, as it means overhunting has been reduced and deer can continue to act as pollinators, the increased population also shows that the numbers of large predators of deer, such as wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bobcats, are declining. Additionally, while increased deer populations may sound like a benefit to pollination, there are very few plants that depend on deer as their sole pollinator, and thus, the increasing deer population generally has a negative effect on plant populations through overgrazing.

deer population decline - are deer pollinators
The graph shows the population recovery of deer in the US from a drastic decline in the 1900s.
Source: G. Kent Webb

Overpopulation Regulation

Today, the increasing population of deer due to a lack of natural predators, especially in the U.S., has shown negative effects on humans and other wildlife species.  This includes public concerns such as: 

  • Crop damage: Because of the increasing number of deer in a certain area, they frequently reach agricultural fields in search of food, where they trample and eat crops. This is why some farmers regard them as pests.
  • Damage to gardens and landscapes: Deer may stray into suburbs and cities at night. They often accidentally trample residential gardens and landscapes.
  • Car accidents: Every year, roughly 1 million car accidents in the United States are caused by deer, resulting in 200 human deaths and 29,000 serious injuries.
  • Disease transmission: The increasing deer population, along with their declining natural habitat, is triggering disease transmission to humans, such as Lyme disease.

Due to human concerns, multiple solutions and regulation programs are being implemented to address the issues caused by deer. While deer may be good pollinators in natural areas, they often act as pests in home gardens. Deer-control solutions include the following:

  • Planting deer-resistant plants, or the plants that deer commonly avoid due to their toxic effects on them, is one way to protect your garden areas from damage. These plants include: 
    • Foxglove
    • Rosemary
    • Mint
    • African Lily
    • Asparagus 
  • Deer repellents can also be used to keep deer away from residential areas. They’re usually made with strong odor-producing ingredients like dried blood, putrefied eggs, garlic, and soap. According to research, egg-based deer repellents are the most effective.
  • Setting up barriers can also keep deer away from your home. Some people use high, sharp chain fences, while others use electric fences.
  • Herd control is one of the best ways to regulate the deer population in an area. It can be done in different ways such as: 

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