Understorey foraging and habitat selection by sheep in mixed Atlantic woodland


  • Nomenclature: Tutin et al. (1964–1980).

*Corresponding author; Fax +34944648500; E-mail zopgaati@lg.ehu.es


Abstract. The main objectives of this study were to investigate sheep foraging behaviour in mixed Atlantic woodland and to assess its impact on the forest understorey. We established 89 plots along four forest types: Fagus woodland, Quercus woodland, riparian gallery forest and conifer plantations. The presence of plant species in the forest understorey and their foraging damage was surveyed bimonthly from July 1996 to June 1997. In addition, we estimated the selection of woodland types by sheep through the pellet-group count technique. The intensity of foraging by sheep was negligible for most of the plant species, however several species showed substantial damage in some woodland types. Among the species that were abundant and widespread in the entire study area, Rubus ulmifolius, graminoids and Ilex aquifolium were consumed most. Sheep selected only larch plantations, where grasses and Rubus were very abundant. This grazing behaviour reduced browsing damage of the understorey of woodland stands with higher conservation value, such as Quercus and Fagus woodlands.