Exclusion of large herbivores affects understorey shrub vegetation more than herb vegetation across 147 forest sites in three German regions
Citable Link (URL):http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/16332
BACKGROUND: Many studies have analysed the effect of browsing by large herbivores on tree species but far fewer studies have studied their effect on understorey shrubs and herbs. Moreover, while many studies have shown that forest features and management intensity strongly influence understorey vegetation, the influence of such variation on the effect of large-herbivore exclusion is not known. THIS STUDY: In this study, we analysed changes of species richness, Shannon diversity, evenness and cover of understorey herbs and shrubs after excluding large herbivores for seven years on 147 forest sites, differing in management intensity and forest features, in three regions of Germany (Schwäbische Alb, Hainich-Dün, Schorfheide-Chorin). Further, we studied how the effect of large-herbivore exclusion on understorey vegetation was influenced by forest management intensity and several forest features. RESULTS: As expected, exclusion of large herbivores resulted in highly variable results. Nevertheless, we found that large-herbivore exclusion significantly increased cover and Shannon diversity of shrub communities, while it did not affect herb communities. Forest management intensity did not influence the effect of large-herbivore exclusion while some forest features, most often relative conifer cover, did. In forests with high relative conifer cover, large-herbivore exclusion decreased species richness and cover of herbs and increased Shannon diversity of herbs and shrubs, while in forests with low relative conifer cover large-herbivore exclusion increased species richness and cover of herbs, and decreased Shannon diversity of herbs and shrubs. CONCLUSION: We suggest that browsing by large herbivores should be included when studying understorey shrub communities, however when studying understorey herb communities the effects of browsing are less general and depend on forest features.