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Impact of vertebrate acorn- and seedling-predators on a Mediterranean Quercus pyrenaica forest

Gómez, José M., Garcı́a, Daniel, Zamora, Regino
Forest ecology and management 2003 v.180 no.1-3 pp. 125–134
Apodemus sylvaticus, Quercus pyrenaica, Sus scrofa, foraging, forests, fruits, herbivores, herds, juveniles, life history, microhabitats, mortality, mountains, predation, predators, probability, seedlings, shrublands, shrubs, soil, ungulates, wild boars, Nevada, Spain
We have experimentally investigated the impact of biotic factors, acting at the seed and seedling stages, on a Quercus pyrenaica forest in the Sierra Nevada mountains (SE Spain). We monitored the natural establishment of the oak for 3 years in two forest plots and two shrubland plots, by counting seedlings and juveniles. In addition, we established several experiments in these plots to examine acorn and seedling survival, while also considering the microhabitat effect on survival probability. Dispersed acorns were quickly consumed by several species of predators, particularly wild boar (Sus scrofa) and woodmouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). Less than 4% of the experimental acorns survived to produce seedlings, even when they were buried 4 cm in soil, simulating caches. No effect of microhabitat was found on predation, and thus no safe site appears to exist for Q. pyrenaica acorns in the study area. Some 98% of the 1000 experimental seedlings were killed by herbivores, notably woodmice, wild boar, and domestic and wild ungulates. Seedling survival varied spatially, being significantly higher under shrubs (4%) than in any other microhabitat (less than 0.5%). Both acorn and seedling survival were much lower in the shrublands than in the forests. In shrubland plots, the main agent of seedling mortality was trampling by domestic ungulates foraging in herds. This study suggests that the regeneration of Q. pyrenaica forests in Mediterranean mountains can be limited by herbivores acting at several life-history stages.