Main content area

Herbivory on planted oak seedlings across a habitat edge created by timber harvest

Kellner, Kenneth F., Swihart, Robert K.
Plant ecology 2017 v.218 no.2 pp. 213-223
Odocoileus virginianus, Quercus alba, Quercus velutina, Sylvilagus floridanus, botanical composition, browsing, deciduous forests, deer, edge effects, forest stands, herbivores, insects, logging, plant competition, planting, rabbits, seedlings, trees, woody plants, Indiana
Edge habitats create environmental gradients that affect plant community composition and herbivore behavior. Silvicultural disturbance creates edge habitat with direct (via changes in light) and indirect (via changes in herbivore behavior) consequences for the growth and survival of tree seedlings, and thus, the composition of the future forest stands. Herbivores, particularly ungulates, can be a major limiting factor in oak regeneration, and silvicultural disturbance may alter the abundance or behavior of herbivores following harvest. We measured the severity of herbivory on experimentally planted white (Quercus alba) and black oak (Quercus velutina) seedlings by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), as well as foliar damage from insects, across gradients created by clearcuts in a deciduous forest in Indiana, USA. Overall browse pressure on oaks was low in our study. Nonetheless, spatial variation in herbivory depended on herbivore taxa; herbivory by rabbits was highest inside harvest openings, whereas foliar damage by insects peaked in the forest. Intensity of deer herbivory was constant across the edge. In addition, we observed indirect interactions among herbivore species mediated by a seedling’s browsing history. Herbivore damage by deer was positively related to past browsing by rabbits, and foliar damage from insects was positively related to past browsing by both deer and rabbits. Increasing woody plant competition reduced herbivory on seedlings by both deer and rabbits. Given the lack of spatial variability in deer herbivory and low overall herbivory by rabbits, we suspect that interactions between timber harvesting and herbivory did not have a strong impact on oak seedlings at our study sites.