, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 231-241
Date: 24 Oct 2003

Survival, growth, and escape from herbivory are determined by habitat and herbivore species for three Australian woodland plants

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Abstract

To understand how plant communities are structured by herbivory it is essential to investigate the roles of different herbivores and the responses of a variety of plant species in different habitats. We examined the effects of mammalian herbivores on survival and growth of transplanted seedlings of two native trees (Eucalyptus albens and Callitris glaucophylla), and one native grass (Themeda australis) in white box (E. albens) woodlands in eastern Australia over 3 years. Herbivores were manipulated using four fencing treatments that successively excluded livestock, macropods, and rabbits from woodland and grassland (cleared pasture). Survival was highest in the absence of mammalian herbivores and in woodlands, and patterns differed among plant species. Survival of T. australis was low, especially in grasslands, and mortality by overgrowth was common in ungrazed treatments. All plant species were taller in fenced plots, and differences between treatments were greater in grassland. Rabbits and livestock had the greatest influence on C. glaucophylla, while T. australis and E. albens were most affected by livestock and macropods. We used field data to parameterize stage-classified matrix models to predict escape from herbivory (escape height >100 cm) for tree species. Reduced herbivory increased the proportion of individuals reaching escape height after 15 years. Rate of escape was greater in grassland, and this faster growth appeared to counteract much of the negative impact of herbivores. While T. australis was unable to escape herbivory, larger, ungrazed individuals were more likely to flower and therefore contribute to the maintenance of the population. Our results show that habitat and herbivore species strongly influence the effect of herbivory on vegetation.