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Impact of introduced herbivores on understory vegetation along a regional moisture gradient in Patagonian beech forests

Por: Piazza, María Victoria.
Colaborador(es): Garibaldi, Lucas A | Kitzberger, Thomas | Chaneton, Enrique José.
ISSN: 0378--112.Tipo de material: Artículos y capítulos. Recurso electrónico.Tema(s): DISTURBANCE | DOMESTIC UNGULATES | HERBIVORY | FUNCTIONAL TYPES | SPECIES DIVERSITY | Recursos en línea: Haga clic para acceso en línea | LINK AL EDITOR. En: Forest Ecology and Management Vol.366 (2016), p. p.11-22-22, grafs.Resumen: Introduced ungulates can alter understory structure and composition posing a serious threat to forest biodiversity Yet how large-herbivore impacts in forested regions vary along major environmental gradients remains little explored. If ungulate effects shift with habitat conditions, then management could be tailored to protect most vulnerable forests. We tested the hypothesis that the extent of livestock impact on understory vegetation increases with habitat moisture across Nothofagus dombeyi forests in Nahuel Huapi National Park, NW Patagonia, Argentina. Understory composition and species diversity were compared for paired sites [N equal to 5], which were historically used by cattle or remained free of livestock for more than 50 yr, and were located along a regional precipitation gradient [1500-2800 mm/yr]. Long-term cattle presence reduced the cover of sub-canopy trees, shrubs and bamboo by 57-83 per cent, and increased the relative cover of ground-layer herbs, regardless of habitat moisture. Livestock effects on species composition increased towards the wettest forests, which contained more species exclusive to either browsed or unbrowsed sites. Livestock presence increased species richness [a diversity] and within-site heterogeneity [b diversity] in some locations, but mostly reduced species evenness [30 per cent] throughout the moisture gradient. Species turnover at the gradient scale was lower across browsed sites than for livestock-free sites. Our results indicate that the historical presence of domestic cattle induced region-wide changes in understory communities, highlighting the vulnerable nature of the local flora to ungulate disturbance. The greater impact of livestock browsing on the species composition of wetter forests was consistent with the role of plant growth-defence trade-offs along resource gradients. We suggest that the erosion of understory vegetation attributed to domestic herbivores in Patagonian beech forests can be mitigated by adjusting current animal stocks, while moister forests should be given the highest conservation priority.
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Introduced ungulates can alter understory structure and composition posing a serious threat to forest biodiversity Yet how large-herbivore impacts in forested regions vary along major environmental gradients remains little explored. If ungulate effects shift with habitat conditions, then management could be tailored to protect most vulnerable forests. We tested the hypothesis that the extent of livestock impact on understory vegetation increases with habitat moisture across Nothofagus dombeyi forests in Nahuel Huapi National Park, NW Patagonia, Argentina. Understory composition and species diversity were compared for paired sites [N equal to 5], which were historically used by cattle or remained free of livestock for more than 50 yr, and were located along a regional precipitation gradient [1500-2800 mm/yr]. Long-term cattle presence reduced the cover of sub-canopy trees, shrubs and bamboo by 57-83 per cent, and increased the relative cover of ground-layer herbs, regardless of habitat moisture. Livestock effects on species composition increased towards the wettest forests, which contained more species exclusive to either browsed or unbrowsed sites. Livestock presence increased species richness [a diversity] and within-site heterogeneity [b diversity] in some locations, but mostly reduced species evenness [30 per cent] throughout the moisture gradient. Species turnover at the gradient scale was lower across browsed sites than for livestock-free sites. Our results indicate that the historical presence of domestic cattle induced region-wide changes in understory communities, highlighting the vulnerable nature of the local flora to ungulate disturbance. The greater impact of livestock browsing on the species composition of wetter forests was consistent with the role of plant growth-defence trade-offs along resource gradients. We suggest that the erosion of understory vegetation attributed to domestic herbivores in Patagonian beech forests can be mitigated by adjusting current animal stocks, while moister forests should be given the highest conservation priority.

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