Land-use legacies in the forest structure of silvopastoral oak woodlands in the Eastern Mediterranean
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- Plieninger, T., Schaich, H. & Kizos, T. Reg Environ Change (2011) 11: 603. doi:10.1007/s10113-010-0192-7
Eastern Mediterranean silvopastoral oak woodlands have been greatly damaged through forest conversion, illegal lumbering, overgrazing, and forest fires. The aim of this study was to assess land-use changes and the legacies that they have imprinted on the forest structure of Quercus macrolepis and accompanying Quercus pubescens and Quercus cerris woodlands on Lesvos Island, Greece. The size structures of adult oak populations were analyzed as indicators of long-term oak regeneration, while short-term recruitment was determined by counting oak seedlings and saplings. The size structure of the adult Q. macrolepis population was similar to the inverse J-shaped distribution typical for natural Mediterranean oak forests, indicating continuous recruitment with a constant mortality rate of mature individuals. Seedling and sapling densities were highly variable, but generally low in relation to adult oak densities. Recruitment of oak seedlings and saplings was positively related to determinants such as forest cover, adult oak density and basal area, woody plant richness, and litter cover. Both seedling and sapling occurrence were negatively associated with dung frequency, which suggests that sheep grazing imposes a barrier to oak recruitment. The study outlines a comprehensive land-use transition from the 1950 to 1970s, during which a complex and multifunctional agrosilvopastoral land-use system was simplified to an intensive grazing system. The discrepancy between the successful long-term regeneration and the less successful short-term recruitment of oaks illustrates that intensified livestock grazing has been a major driver of vegetation change. Grazing impact is likely to interact with increasing drought conditions, which may trigger a negative feedback cycle that undermines the capacity of woodlands to sustain ecosystem services.