Journal article

Multi-scale feedbacks between tree regeneration traits and herbivore behavior explain the structure of pasture-woodland mosaics

The pasture-woodlands of Central Europe are low-intensity grazing systems in which the structural richness of dynamic forest-grassland mosaics is causal for their high biodiversity. Distinct mosaic patterns in Picea abies- and Fagus sylvatica-dominated pasture-woodlands in the Swiss Jura Mountains suggest a strong influence of tree species regeneration ecology on landscape structural properties. At the landscape scale, however, cause-effect relationships are complicated by habitat selectivity of livestock. We asked which tree species regeneration traits and what kind of feedbacks among local-scale vegetation dynamics and landscape-scale herbivore behavior are causal for the contrasted landscape structural characteristics of Picea- and Fagus-dominated pasture-woodlands. We performed simulation experiments of mosaic pattern formation in both pasture-woodland types. The regeneration traits, namely dispersal distance, resistance to browsing and tolerance to shade, and the rules for habitat selection of cattle were modified and the corresponding shifts in landscape structure were analyzed. Dispersal distance showed a significant, but only local, effect promoting forest fringe formation. Saplings' resistance to browsing mainly determined overall tree cover, but did not influence landscape structure. At the landscape scale, both shade tolerance of saplings and selective habitat use by cattle were responsible for forest-grassland segregation: high shade tolerance triggered segregation, whereas non-selective habitat use hindered it. Existing local-scale theory on pasture-woodland dynamics is complemented by an herbivore-vegetation feedback among spatial scales. In low-intensity pastures, where large herbivores are preferentially "grazers" and trees form dense canopies, an intrinsic trend towards forest-grassland segregation at the expense of forest-grassland ecotones is predicted.


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