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Ungulate Browsing Limits Bird Diversity of the Central European Hardwood Floodplain Forests

Machar, Ivo, Cermak, Petr, Pechanec, Vilem
Forests 2018 v.9 no.7
Cervus dama, Cervus elaphus, biodiversity, browsing, census data, cultural landscape, deer, floodplains, forest birds, forest ecosystems, hardwood, hardwood forests, herbivores, monitoring, nutritional support, predators, refuge habitats, rivers, shrubs, trees, winter, Czech Republic
Temperate hardwood floodplain forests along lowland rivers are considered important forest biodiversity refugia in the European cultural landscape. The absence of apex predators combined with an artificial feeding of herbivore populations in winter seasons has caused an increase in browsing pressure on hardwood trees, nearly preventing their regeneration in some localities. There are still important knowledge gaps in understanding the relationships between deer abundance (and browsing pressure) and the abundance (and diversity) of forest bird species in unmanaged hardwood forests. We have studied the red deer and fallow deer browsing pressure in Central European unmanaged hardwood floodplain forests using a novel method based on monitoring browsing pressure along transects combined with bird census data in the Litovelské Pomoraví Protected Landscape Area (Czech Republic). The monitoring data suggested a very high browsing pressure on hardwood trees, causing a strong reduction of the shrub layer and young tree layer (30–210 cm above ground surface). The bird census data from the study area were collected using the territory mapping method. Our results revealed a bird diversity decline in all study plots and the bush nesters guild was found to be completely absent. As bird species from the bush nesters guild are generally common (usually dominant) in hardwood floodplain forest ecosystems with a rich shrub and young tree layer and low browsing pressure, we conclude that intense browsing by large herbivores represents a limiting factor to the bird diversity (especially bush nesters) of hardwood floodplain forests.