Plant Ecology

, 206:173

First online:

Interaction between large herbivore activities, vegetation structure, and flooding affects tree seedling emergence

  • Jan Van UytvanckAffiliated withResearch Institute for Nature and ForestTerrestrial Ecology Unit, Department of Biology, Ghent University Email author 
  • , Tanja MiloticAffiliated withResearch Institute for Nature and Forest
  • , Maurice HoffmannAffiliated withResearch Institute for Nature and ForestTerrestrial Ecology Unit, Department of Biology, Ghent University

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Tree establishment in grazed vegetation mosaics involves a series of early bottlenecks, including seed dispersal, germination, seedling emergence, survival and growth. In a field experiment, we studied seedling emergence of two species with contrasting recruitment strategies, Fraxinus excelsior and Quercus robur, in five structurally different vegetations: grazed and ungrazed grassland, ruderal pioneer vegetation, soft rush tussocks, tall sedge mats and bramble scrub. In a simulation experiment, we studied the interaction effects of pre-emergence flooding (3 weeks of inundation), trampling and grazing (simulated by clipping) of grassland vegetation on the emergence and early growth of both tree species in grass swards. Seedling emergence was enhanced in low swards and sparse vegetation types. Despite different recruitment strategies, the interaction of flooding and trampling of swards enhanced seedling emergence of both species. Grazing of soft rush and tall sedges enhanced emergence of F. excelsior. Clipping grass swards increased early growth of emerging Q. robur. Our results support the hypothesis that natural disturbances of soil and vegetation create microsites for seedling emergence and reduce above-ground competition. In grazed systems however, these results suggest a discordant relationship between successful seedling emergence and subsequent seedling growth/survival during the establishment process in structurally different vegetations.


Competition for light Grazing Natural disturbances Tree recruitment and establishment Trampling Vegetation gap