Research papers

Early and long-term impacts of browsing by roe deer in oak coppiced woods along a gradient of population density


Abstract


Over the last few decades, wild ungulate populations have exhibited relevant geographic and demographic expansion in most European countries; roe deer is amongst the most widespread ungulate species. The increasing roe deer densities have led to strong impact on forest regeneration; the problem has been recently recognized in coppice woods, a silvicultural system which is widespread in Italy, where it amounts to about 56% of the total national forested area.

In this study we investigated the effect of roe deer browsing on the vegetative regeneration of Turkey oak few years after coppicing, along a gradient of roe deer density. A browsing index revealed that browsing impact was high at any given roe deer density but increased at higher density, with the browsing rate ranging from 65% to 79%. We also analyzed the long-term impact of browsing six and eleven years after coppicing under a medium roe deer density. Results indicated the early impact are not ephemeral but produced prolonged impacts through time, with an average reduction in volume of -57% and -41% six and eleven years after coppicing, respectively. Based on these results we proposed integrating browsing monitoring with roe deer density estimation to allow identifying ungulate densities which are compatible with silvicultural and forest management objectives. The proposed browsing index can be regarded as an effective management tool, on account of its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, being therefore highly suitable for routine, large scale monitoring of browsing impact.


Keywords

Capreolus capreolus; Turkey oak; forest damage; stool; coppice forest

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12899/asr-945

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