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Regeneration of Salix arbuscula and Salix lapponum within a Large Mammal Exclosure: The Impacts of Microsite and Herbivory

Authors


R. F. Shaw, email rosalindfrancesshaw@hotmail.com

Abstract

Over-grazing or browsing by large herbivores may result in the loss of individual plant species or entire plant communities. Restoration schemes often involve exclusion of large mammals, but the resulting changes in vegetation may alter other important ecological processes such as regeneration, via changes in microsite availability for seed germination or increases in populations of seedling predators. Working within a large fenced area from which large mammals were excluded, we experimentally tested the effects of microsite, small herbivores, and their interactions on post-dispersal seed and early seedling mortality of one nationally scarce (Salix arbuscula) and one nationally rare (S. lapponum) species of montane willow. Seeds were sown in three different microsites: natural vegetation, mown vegetation (mimicking grazed sward), and bare ground. Small exclosures and slug pellets were used to examine the effects of small mammal and slug predation, respectively. Survival of seedlings was monitored during the summer following planting. The presence of bare ground, rather than the absence of herbivores, was of over-riding importance for early seedling survival and establishment. Protecting seedlings from small mammals made no difference to the levels of survival; however, protecting seedlings from slugs (Arion spp.) resulted in approximately 45% of seedlings surviving until the end of the summer compared to only 30% when seedlings were available to slugs. Although excluding large herbivores may increase seed production of existing individuals, the impacts of changes to plant communities on processes such as regeneration need to be considered if restoration projects are to be fully successful.

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