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Relationships between the effects of insect herbivory and sheep grazing on seasonal changes in an early successional plant community

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Summary

The effects of spring grazing by sheep and of natural levels of insect herbivory were studied in 1985 on a limestone field abandoned from arable land for four years. A split-plot design was adopted in which paddocks, arranged in Latin squares, were either left ungrazed or heavily grazed by sheep for ten days in April. Within each paddock plots were either sprayed regularly with Malathion-60 or untreated.

Natural levels of insect herbivory, compared to the reduced levels in insecticide-treated plots, had effects of similar magnitude to those from the short burst of spring grazing. Many attributes of the grazed/insecticide-treated sward were either increased or decreased by a factor of two within a season. Both types of herbivore caused changes in the direction of plant succession as well as in its rate. Effects on early successional species were large and similar when caused by either type of herbivore. Effects on later successional species were often smaller, but also showed differences in the action of the two herbivore types, as did effects on sward height, species richness and total cover. The effects of sheep and insect herbivory were not always additive or in the same direction.

The results suggest that manipulations of both mammal and insect herbivores may be powerful tools for directing changes in plant community composition.

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Correspondence to C. W. D. Gibson.

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Gibson, C.W.D., Brown, V.K. & Jepsen, M. Relationships between the effects of insect herbivory and sheep grazing on seasonal changes in an early successional plant community. Oecologia 71, 245–253 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00377291

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Key words

  • Calcicolous grassland
  • Herbivory
  • Insects
  • Plant succession
  • Sheep