Annals of Forest Science

, 75:77 | Cite as

Beneath the mistletoe: parasitized trees host a more diverse herbaceous vegetation and are more visited by rabbits

  • José A. Hódar
  • Alba Lázaro-González
  • Regino Zamora
Research Paper


• Key message

Parasitism by mistletoe increases the cover and diversity of herbaceous vegetation under the host tree and attracts the activity of rabbits in comparison to control trees. Thus, the effects on forest community go beyond the parasitized tree.

• Context

Mistletoes are a diverse group of aerial hemiparasitic plants and are considered keystone species in forest ecosystems around the world. They produce nutrient-enriched litter, which exerts a substantial effect on soil-nutrient concentration, and the enriched nutrient patch alters the vegetation at the site as well as the associated fauna.

• Aims

Our goal is to ascertain whether mistletoe (Viscum album) parasitism of pine forest of a Mediterranean mountain favors herbaceous vegetation and attracts mammalian herbivores.

• Methods

We recorded in Sierra de Baza (SE Spain) the composition of the herbaceous vegetation under pines with and without mistletoe parasitism, and estimated the rabbit activity at the same sites by collecting their excrements.

• Results

An effect on herbaceous vegetation, especially in grasses belonging to the family Poaceae, was reflected in a notable increase in soil cover, species richness, and species diversity beneath parasitized pines with respect to unparasitized ones. As a consequence, parasitized pines attract the activity of rabbits, as shown by a fivefold quantity of excrement with respect to control ones.

• Conclusion

Parasitism by mistletoe, by creating patches of greater nutrient availability under the host canopy, extends its effects beyond the host tree to other members of the forest community, such as herbaceous plants and associated herbivorous animals, which in turn contribute to environmental heterogeneity with their activity.


Fertility island Herbaceous plant diversity Herbivore occupancy Mistletoe litterfall Nutrient concentration Pine woodlands Poaceae Rabbit 



The Andalusian Environmental Council, Junta de Andalucía, and the Direction of the Sierra de Baza Natural Park provided permission for field work. Ramón Ruiz-Puche helped us while field sampling and lab sample processing. David Nesbitt looked over the English version of the manuscript. Two anonymous referees greatly contributed to improve an early version of this manuscript.


The study was supported by project CLAVINOVA CGL2011-29910 from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) and FPI predoctoral grant from MCYT to ALG.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

13595_2018_761_MOESM1_ESM.docx (33 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grupo de Ecología Terrestre, Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

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