Over the past decades outdoor recreation has become progressively more important and as a result human-induced potential damage has increased. In this study, short-term effects – a 2-yr period – of human trampling on some common forest and heath communities in Central Belgium were studied experimentally. Vulnerability to disturbance was compared among plant communities in terms of resistance, resilience and tolerance, which are based on cover measurements. The herb layer of the examined mesophilous forest communities appeared to be more sensitive than the heath and dry forest community, which were dominated by more resistant graminoid (Molinia caerulea, Deschampsia flexuosa) and dwarf-shrub species (Vaccinium myrtillus, Calluna vulgaris, Erica tetralix). The analysis showed that site structure and vegetation were already affected by low intensities of trampling, while vegetation recovery during the first year after trampling was limited in most plant communities. Recovery during the second year in vegetation cover as well as height was most pronounced in mesophilous forest communities. Occasional trampling clearly can lead to increased visual evidence of previous use and continued recreational disturbance. Therefore management plans should discourage hiking activity off paths and restrict recreation activities to the least vulnerable communities.
Nomenclature: Lambinon et al. (1998).
Abbreviations: RVC = Relative vegetation cover; RVH = Relative vegetation height.