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The use of branch piles to assist in the restoration of degraded semiarid steppes

Castillo‐Escrivà, Andreu, López‐Iborra, Germán M., Cortina, Jordi, Tormo, Jaume
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.1 pp. 102-108
Pistacia lentiscus, Rhamnus, birds, desertification, economic costs, frugivores, plantations, seed dispersal, seeds, semiarid zones, shrubs, steppes
Desertification is a major environmental problem in arid and semiarid regions. Tree plantation has been commonly employed to foster the recovery of degraded areas. However, this technique is costly, and their outcomes are often uncertain. Therefore, we evaluated an alternative method for the restoration of degraded semiarid steppes that involved the construction of branch piles to attract frugivores as potential seed‐dispersing birds, promoting seed rain, and fostering the formation of woody patches. We measured the success of branch piles in terms of the number of bird visits and seed input compared to naturally occurring shrub patches. Generally, frugivorous birds visited branch piles less frequently than shrub patches. Yet, branch piles accumulated seeds of patch‐forming shrub species. Seed rain was higher under patches of the dominant shrub Rhamnus lycioides than under branch piles. In contrast, woody patches and branch piles did not differ in seed input of the less abundant Pistacia lentiscus shrub. Our study demonstrates that branch piles are used by frugivorous birds and accumulate seeds of patch‐forming shrubs. Branch piles may be a suitable method to promote the expansion of bird‐dispersed plant species and restore semiarid wooded steppes. However, their efficiency largely depends on pile persistence and economic cost.