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Ungulate browsing in winter reduces the growth of Fraxinus and Acer saplings in subsequent unbrowsed years

Kupferschmid, Andrea D., Bugmann, Harald
Plant ecology 2008 v.198 no.1 pp. 121-134
Acer pseudoplatanus, Capreolus capreolus, Fraxinus excelsior, browsing, forest stands, growth retardation, growth rings, montane forests, nutrient content, saplings, soil water, ungulates, winter
Browsing by ungulates has become a hotly debated issue in many European mountain forests in the past century. Acer pseudoplatanus L. and Fraxinus excelsior L. are broadleaved tree species that are preferentially browsed by roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) in central Europe. We analyzed growth data from shaded saplings of both tree species to quantify the extent to which height growth after game browsing is reduced in subsequent, unbrowsed years in forest stands. Sixty saplings of F. excelsior and A. pseudoplatanus from forest stands at Albisriederberg (Switzerland) were available to us that had been dissected into pieces that then were split in the middle for counting tree rings and assessing ungulate damage. We fitted the von Bertalanffy growth equation to these height growth data and included a reduction factor for winter browsing. Both tree species showed significantly reduced height growth in unbrowsed years after one to several browsing events in winter, and this effect increased with the number of browsing events. Saplings with a high growth rate showed a higher growth reduction. After winter browsing, height growth of A. pseudoplatanus saplings was less affected in unbrowsed years than that of F. excelsior saplings. We conclude that browsed saplings of these species in forest stands are not able to compensate browsing-induced height loss, but that height differences between browsed and unbrowsed saplings probably increase over time. A comparison between our analysis and the parameters estimated using equations published by Eiberle for predicting age at 130 cm height suggests that our parameter values are rather conservative estimates of the growth reduction effect after winter browsing. Neither F. excelsior nor A. pseudoplatanus show a distinct pattern in browsing-induced growth reduction with respect to soil moisture, nutrient level, and altitude. We thus conclude that our results are likely to be valid for a wide range of forested sites.