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Population density and plant availability interplay to shape browsing intensity by roe deer in a deciduous forest

Abstract : Browsing damage in forests relies on a complex interaction between herbivore density and forest understory composition and relative availability. Although variation in the amount of browsed twigs is sometimes used to assess abundance of large herbivores, the potential confounding effect of resource availability on this relationship has not been investigated yet. To fill the gap, we measured how browsing intensity of the woody plants varied in response to changes in both roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) abundance and vegetation availability from an intensive long-term monitoring. We estimated plant availability and consumption by roe deer from a modified Aldous method throughout a 14 year-long period during which we experimentally manipulated population density. The functional response was strongly non-linear and density-dependent. When plant availability was low (<12.5%), browsing intensity strongly increased with plant availability with an increasing rate of roe deer density, whereas beyond this threshold, browsing intensity slightly increased with both plant availability and population density in an additive way. Thus, forest susceptibility to browsing increases with increasing competition for food, especially when plant availability is low. Moreover, the interplay between browsing intensity and population density at low plant availability prevents the use of browsing intensity to monitor roe deer abundance when plant availability is low. Our findings provide clear evidence that relying on key ecological concepts such as functional responses improves the accuracy of management tools when monitoring changes of the herbivore-plant system over time.
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Contributor : Anders Mårell Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Thursday, April 28, 2022 - 6:05:40 PM
Last modification on : Friday, April 29, 2022 - 3:32:24 AM

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William Gaudry, Jean-Michel Gaillard, Sonia Saïd, Anders Mårell, Christophe Baltzinger, et al.. Population density and plant availability interplay to shape browsing intensity by roe deer in a deciduous forest. Forest Ecology and Management, 2022, 515, pp.120153. ⟨10.1016/j.foreco.2022.120153⟩. ⟨hal-03654723⟩



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