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Effects of introduction and exclusion of large herbivores on small rodent communities

Smit, R., Bokdam, J., Ouden, J. den., Olff, H., Schot-Opschoor, H., Schrijvers, M.
Plant ecology 2001 v.155 no.1 pp. 119-127
browsing, seed predation, heathlands, Apodemus sylvaticus, Microtus agrestis, Cervus elaphus, Capreolus capreolus, mouflon, Quercus robur, woodlands, grazing intensity, small mammals, Fagus sylvatica, habitats, rodents, understory, Netherlands
In this study we analysed the effects of large herbivores on small rodent communities in different habitats using large herbivore exclosures. We studied the effects of three year grazing introduction by red deer (Cervus elaphus L.) in previously ungrazed pine and oak woodland and the exclusion of grazing by red deer, roe deer (Capreolus capreolus L.) and mouflon (Ovis ammon musimin L.) in formerly, heavily grazed pine woodland and heathland. At eight exclosure sites within each habitat type, small rodents were captured with live traps using trapping grids. At each trapping grid, seed plots of beechnuts (Fagus sylvatica L.) and acorns (Quercus robur L.) were placed to measure seed predation by rodents. Exclusion of grazing by large herbivores in formerly, heavily grazed habitats had a significant effect on small rodent communities. Inside exclosures higher densities of mainly wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus L.) and field voles (Microtus agrestis L.) were captured. Introduction of grazing by red deer appeared to have no significant negative effects on small rodent communities. The seed predation intensity of beechnuts and acorns by small rodents was significantly higher in ungrazed situations, particularly in habitats that were excluded from grazing. The differences between grazing introduction and exclusion effects on small rodent communities can be explained by differences in vegetation structure development. The recovery of heavily browsed understory vegetation after large herbivore grazing exclusion proceeded faster than the understory degradation due to grazing introduction. Small rodents depend on structural rich vegetations mainly for shelter. We conclude that large herbivores can have significant effects on vegetation dynamics not only via direct plant consumption but also through indirect effects by reducing the habitat quality of small rodent habits.