Restoration of woodpasture on former agricultural land: the importance of safe sites and time gaps before grazing for tree seedlings

Jan Van Uytvanck, Dirk Maes, D Vandenhaute, Maurice Hoffmann

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    Woodpastures (open, grazed woodlands with a mosaic of grassland, shrub and tree patches) are of high biological and cultural value and have become a threatened ecosystem in Europe. Spontaneous tree regeneration in the presence of large herbivores, is an essential process for management and restoration of this structurally diverse habitat. We examined the suitability of five vegetation types (grasslands, ruderal vegetations, tall sedges, rush tussocks and bramble thickets), grazed by large herbivores, for tree regeneration. We hypothesized that bramble thickets and tall herb communities operate as safe sites for palatable tree species through the mechanism of associational resistance. We set up a field experiment with tree seedlings in grazed and ungrazed conditions and recorded mortality and growth of seedlings of two palatable tree species (Quercus robur and Fraxinus excelsior) during three growing seasons. In the same experiment, we studied the effect of a two year’s initial time gap before grazing.

    Bramble thickets were suitable safe sites for survival and growth of seedlings of both species. Tall sedges, soft rush tussocks and ruderal vegetations with unpalatable or spiny species provided temporal protection, allowing seedlings to survive. Tree regeneration in livestock grazed grassland was highly constrained. Rabbits may undo the nursing effects of bramble thickets. The first year’s survival is of major importance for the establishment of trees. Subsequent grazing affects growth rather than survival. A two year’s initial time gap before grazing, had positive effects on survival, but did not enhance outgrowth of unprotected trees.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalBiological Conservation
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)78-88
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - 2008

    Thematic list

    • Forest management
    • Nature management

    EWI Biomedical sciences

    • B003-ecology
    • large herbivores


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