Question: Can wild ungulates efficiently maintain and restore open habitats?
Location: Brandenburg, NE Germany.
Methods: The effect of wild ungulate grazing and browsing was studied in three successional stages: (1) Corynephorus canescens-dominated grassland; (2) ruderal tall forb vegetation dominated by Tanacetum vulgare; and (3) Pinus sylvestris-pioneer forest. The study was conducted over 3 yr. In each successional stage, six paired 4 m2-monitoring plots of permanently grazed versus ungrazed plots were arranged in three random blocks. Removal of grazing was introduced de novo for the study. In each plot, percentage cover of each plant and lichen species and total cover of woody plants was recorded.
Results: Wild ungulates considerably affected successional pathways and species composition in open habitats but this influence became evident in alteration of abundances of only a few species. Grazing effects differed considerably between successional stages: species richness was higher in grazed versus ungrazed ruderal and pioneer forest plots, but not in the Corynephorus sites. Herbivory affected woody plant cover only in the Pioneer forest sites. Although the study period was too short to observe drastic changes in species richness and woody plant cover, notable changes in species composition were still detected in all successional stages.
Conclusion: Wild ungulate browsing is a useful tool to inhibit encroachment of woody vegetation and to conserve a species-rich, open landscape.