Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 2669–2691 | Cite as

Long-term consequences of mechanical fuel management for the conservation of Mediterranean forest herb communities

  • Miguel Porto
  • Otília Correia
  • Pedro BejaEmail author
Original Paper


Mechanical clearing of understory vegetation is increasingly used in Euro-Mediterranean forests to reduce fire hazard, yet its long-term consequences for biodiversity remain poorly understood. This study analysed the influence of time since understory management and management frequency, on herbaceous species richness, cover and composition, functional richness and composition, and richness and cover within functional groups (life and growth forms, dispersal strategy, clonality, and plant height), using a chronosequence of cork oak (Quercus suber) stands spanning about 70 years. Overall species richness was virtually constant over time, but the richness of species with annual life form and plasticity in height was much higher in recently and recurrently treated stands; the opposite was found for perennial (mainly hemicryptophytes and chamaephytes), tussock-forming and clonal species richness, and functional richness. Overall herbaceous cover and that of annual, semi-basal, non-clonal and plastic species (in height) were favoured by recent and recurrent fuel treatments; cover by perennial (hemicryptophytes and chamaephytes), short basal, tussock-forming, and clonal species tended to increase for >10–20 years after management, and declined with management frequency. There was a marked shift in species and functional composition associated with time since understory management and management frequency. These findings suggest that widespread fuel management at <10 year intervals may shift understory herb communities to early-successional stages, impairing the persistence of species and functional groups recovering slowly after disturbance. Fuel management needs to balance the dual goals of fire hazard reduction and biodiversity conservation, retaining undisturbed patches in landscapes otherwise managed to reduce fuel accumulation.


Disturbance ecology Ecological succession Forest management Landscape mosaics Mediterranean plant communities 



This study was funded by IFADAP-Program AGRO 8.1 (project 458—2003.09.002326.2), and by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation through grant SFRH/BD/28974/2006 to MP. We thank researchers and technicians of the Forest Producers Association of Barranco do Velho, the Association In Loco, the Association for the Defence of Mértola Heritage, and the Centre for Applied Ecology “Baeta Neves”, for collaboration in the development of this project. We also thank Ricardo Silva and Rui Guerreiro for their valuable assistance in the field work, and two anonymous referees for insightful comments that greatly improved the paper.

Supplementary material

10531_2011_98_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (890 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 889 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Biologia Vegetal, Faculdade de Ciências de Lisboa, Centro de Biologia AmbientalUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos GenéticosUniversidade do PortoVairãoPortugal

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