Browsing-Woody Plant Interactions During Boreal Forest Plant Succession

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Successional theory has emphasized either interactions among plants that facilitate or inhibit establishment of late successional species (Whittaker 1975, Connell and Slayter 1977) or the changes in nutrient cycling during succession (Odum 1969, Vitousek and Reiners 1975, Van Cleve and Viereck 1981). However, the role of herbivory in succession has been largely overlooked (Connell and Slayter 1977) despite its clear importance in marine succession (Sousa 1979). In this chapter, we discuss the role of browsing by mammals upon recruitment of trees and shrubs during plant succession in boreal forests. Radiation, soil temperature, and nutrient availability decline sharply through succession in Alaska, and they are probably the primary factors responsible for successional change (Van Cleve and Viereck 1981). However, these changes in environment influence: (1) patterns of selective feeding by browsing mammals through allocation of carbon-to-plant secondary metabolites; and (2) the capacity of woody plants to replace tissue eaten by browsing mammals through compensatory growth. The interplay of these two factors determines the role of browsing upon plants during boreal forest succession. Moreover, plant secondary metabolites that evolved to defend the plant against herbivores may also affect nutrient cycling in boreal forests by altering litter quality. In short, succession in boreal forests may be characterized by a feedback loop.