Does shrub invasion indirectly limit grass establishment via seedling herbivory? A test at grassland-shrubland ecotones

TitleDoes shrub invasion indirectly limit grass establishment via seedling herbivory? A test at grassland-shrubland ecotones
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsBestelmeyer B, Khalil N.I., Peters DC
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Volume18
Pagination363-370
Date PublishedMarch 1, 2007
Accession NumberJRN00472
ARIS Log Number210266
Keywordsalternative state, Bouteloua eriopoda, Chihuahuan Desert, desertifiction, Dipodomys, foraging behavior, Lepus californicus, restoration, small mammal
AbstractDoes shrub invasion at ecotones indirectly limit grass establishment by increasing mammalian seedling herbivory, Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico? We tested the hypothesis that herbivore-related mortality of seedlings of the dominant perennial grass Bouteloua eriopoda would be highest in shrub-dominated portions of grassland-shrubland ecotones. We tested the hypothesis in two Chihuahuan Desert sites featuring similar shrub encroachment patterns but different shrub species, grass cover, and different abundances of small mammals. Within each site we transplanted B. eriopoda seedlings to grass-dominated, middle, and shrub-dominated positions of replicate ecotones during the time of year (mid-summer) when they would naturally appear and monitored seedling fates. We estimated population size/activity of putative small mammal herbivores. Seedlings were killed by mammals in greater number in shrubland than in grassland or middle ecotone positions at the site withlarge herbivore numbers. At the site with low herbivore numbers, most seedlings were killed in middle ecotone positions. The abundance patterns of herbivores did not parallel patterns of seedling herbivory across the ecotones or between sites. Seedling herbivory is an improtant process and is related to vegetation composition, but the mechanisms underlying the relationship are not clear. We speculate that variation in small mammal foraging behvior may contribute to seedling herbivory patterns. Restoration strategies in the Chihuahuan Desert need to account for the abundance and/or behavior of native herbivores.
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