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Forage quality of leaf-fodder from the main broad-leaved woody species and its possible consequences for the Holocene development of forest vegetation in Central Europe

Abstract

Leaf-hay was the principal winter feed of livestock from the Neolithic until the first archaeological records of scythes dated to the Iron Age (700–0 b.c.). Despite the use of meadow hay, leaf-fodder remained an important winter supplement until the present. Archaeological evidence lists Quercus, Tilia, Ulmus, Acer, Fraxinus and Corylus as woody species harvested for leaf-fodder, while Fagus, Populus or Carpinus were rarely used. The aim of our study was to test whether the use of listed woody species followed the pattern of their forage quality (syn. nutritive value). In late May 2012, we collected leaf biomass at four localities in the Czech Republic and determined concentrations of N, P, K, Ca, Mg, neutral- and acid-detergent fibre and lignin. Species with leaves of low forage quality were Carpinus betulus, Fagus sylvatica and Quercus robur, species with leaves of intermediate quality were Corylus avellana and Populus tremula and species with leaves of high quality were Ulmus glabra, Fraxinus excelsior, Tilia cordata and Acer platanoides. Selective browsing and harvesting of high quality species Acer, Fraxinus, Tilia and Ulmus thus probably supported their decline in the Bronze and Iron ages and supported the expansion of Carpinus and Fagus. Our results indicate that our ancestors’ practice of exploiting woody species as leaf-hay for winter fodder followed their nutritive value.

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Acknowledgments

The study was funded by a Grant from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague CIGA 20114205.

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Correspondence to Pavla Hejcmanová.

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Communicated by K.-E. Behre.

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Hejcmanová, P., Stejskalová, M. & Hejcman, M. Forage quality of leaf-fodder from the main broad-leaved woody species and its possible consequences for the Holocene development of forest vegetation in Central Europe. Veget Hist Archaeobot 23, 607–613 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-013-0414-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-013-0414-2

Keywords

  • Agricultural history
  • Leaf-fodder
  • Livestock feeding
  • Nutritive value
  • Prehistory