Construction of Sand Shinnery Oak Communities of the Llano Estacado: Animal Disturbances, Plant Community Structure, and Restoration



In land restoration it is imperative to study the potential role of disturbances, biotic or abiotic, that may provide sites for colonization by specific plants. Disturbances can alter community composition by removing species or allowing others to become established. In communities where animal-generated disturbances open sites for seedling establishment, animals may have important indirect effects on several aspects of plant community structure. Animal disturbances in Quercus havardii communities of western Texas appear to open sites for colonization by herbaceous species. These animal disturbances vary in spatial distribution, density, and abiotic and biotic characteristics. The abundance of herbaceous plant seedlings is positively related to bare ground and the number of distinct disturbances. Thus, the density and the spatial distribution of these disturbances may be expected to have an important influence on the abundance and dispersion of plant species. Therefore, successful restoration efforts of sand shinnery oak communities and other similar habitats must consider the effects of animal disturbances and the role of plant-animal and plant-soil microbe interactions on plant community composition and the maintenance of plant species diversity.