Ecological Studies Volume 167, 2003, pp 351-366

Large Herbivores in European Alpine Ecosystems: Current Status and Challenges for the Future

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Abstract

The mountain ecosystems of Europe are facing rapid changes in land use including an increasing use of mountain areas for tourism and transport, and a decrease in the extent of small-scale agriculture such as transhumance (Breitenmoser 1998; Fig.21.1. All of these changes may have an impact on the landscape structure and on the flora and fauna. As most National Parks and other protected areas are in mountain areas, the protection of ecosystems with their plant and wildlife has to be undertaken in the face of an increasing human pressure. During the last decades of the twentieth century, most of the large herbivores increased in number as a direct result of human actions (such as the reintroduction of ibexCapra ibex L.)or by natural changes in the size and dynamics of populations (Figs. 21.2–21.4). The introduction/ reintroduction of an abundant and diverse fauna is perceived as mainly positive, especially by conservationists, tourists and hunters. However, it may be asked how mountain areas will react to the concomitant action of natural and human-made processes, especially in relation to specific areas of interest such as plant-herbivore relationships, interactions between wild and domestic herbivores, the role of large predators, the impact of wild herbivores on the landscape and the potential impacts of climate change on the population dynamics of ungulates.