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Short-term response and recovery of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) after rooting by wild boar (Sus scrofa)

Abstract

Species reintroduction programmes should include consideration of potential impacts on key species in the recipient community. Wild boar (Sus scrofa) have been reintroduced into Britain after a 700-year absence. There is an urgent need to understand how this ecosystem engineer will affect plant communities in the habitats that it invades. We investigated the impact of rooting by wild boar on bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), a species that is highly valued for its impressive floral displays and is an important and legally protected component of the UK forest flora. We monitored bluebell performance over three growing seasons in woodland habitats that are routinely rooted by boar in southern England. H. non-scripta cover and reproductive performance were monitored in small-scale experimental exclosures to exclude boar, compared to open control plots, set up on areas that either had or had not been previously rooted. Immediate effects were that rooting significantly reduced the percentage cover and density of H. non-scripta plants, by up to 95 and 60 %, respectively, and also adversely affected the number of flowering stems. However, there was evidence that cessation of rooting brought about by excluding the boar enabled substantial recovery in percentage cover and the density of flowering stems within 2 years. A positive effect of rooting on germination may have assisted this recovery. Thus, the impact of wild boar rooting on bluebell populations is locally severe, but there is potential for rapid recovery if plants are protected. Long-term effects of sustained or frequently repeated rooting still need to be investigated.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Cheryl Case, Martin Goulding, Sue Hartley, Mike Hutchings, Rupert Sims, Noel Smith, David Streeter and Martyn Stenning for various forms of assistance. Claire Harkin and Fiona Ingleby gave useful advice on statistical analysis. Steve Peters and John Stafford (Forest Enterprise) facilitated access to the land used for this study. NKS was supported by a bursary from the University of Sussex.

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Correspondence to Alan J. A. Stewart.

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Sims, N.K., John, E.A. & Stewart, A.J.A. Short-term response and recovery of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) after rooting by wild boar (Sus scrofa). Plant Ecol 215, 1409–1416 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-014-0397-9

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Keywords

  • Disturbance
  • Experimental exclosures
  • Plant recovery
  • Reintroduction
  • Restoration ecology
  • Woodland