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The effects of large herbivores on the landscape dynamics of a perennial herb

Hemrová, Lucie, Červenková, Zita, Münzbergová, Zuzana
Annals of botany 2012 v.110 no.7 pp. 1411-1421
Scorzonera hispanica, browsing, grasslands, herbivores, humans, landscapes, models, population dynamics, population size, prediction, probability
Background and Aims Models assessing the prospects of plant species at the landscape level often focus primarily on the relationship between species dynamics and landscape structure. However, the short-term prospects of species with slow responses to landscape changes depend on the factors affecting local population dynamics. In this study it is hypothesized that large herbivores may be a major factor affecting the short-term prospects of slow-responding species in the European landscape, because large herbivores have increased in number in this region in recent decades and can strongly influence local population dynamics. Methods The impact of browsing by large herbivores was simulated on the landscape-level dynamics of the dry grassland perennial polycarpic herb Scorzonera hispanica . A dynamic, spatially explicit model was used that incorporated information on the location of patches suitable for S. hispanica , local population dynamics (matrices including the impact of large herbivores), initial population sizes and dispersal rate of the species. Simulations were performed relating to the prospects of S. hispanica over the next 30 years under different rates of herbivory (browsing intensity) and varying frequencies of population destruction (e.g. by human activity). Key Results Although a high rate of herbivory was detected in most populations of S. hispanica , current landscape-level dynamics of S. hispanica were approximately in equilibrium. A decline or increase of over 20 % in the herbivory rate promoted rapid expansion or decline of S. hispanica , respectively. This effect was much stronger in the presence of population destruction. Conclusions Browsing by large herbivores can have a dramatic effect on the landscape dynamics of plant species. Changes in the density of large herbivores and the probability of population destruction should be incorporated into models predicting species abundance and distribution.