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24 August 2016 Vegetation management influences habitat use by mammalian herbivores in shrub-encroached grassy woodland
Naomi E. Davis, Julian Di Stefano, Graeme Coulson, Jim Whelan, John Wright
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Abstract

Context . Restoration of disturbed vegetation communities commonly involves altering vegetation composition and structure, attributes that can influence the suitability of habitat for fauna. Feedbacks may occur whereby changes to the vegetation affect mammalian herbivores, and unintended changes may prevent managers from achieving conservation goals.

Aims . To understand how vegetation management affects habitat use by five mammalian herbivores, namely eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor), common wombat (Vombatus ursinus), European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and hog deer (Axis porcinus).

Methods . A management experiment (mechanical slashing of the encroaching shrub Leptospermum laevigatum) at Wilsons Promontory National Park, Australia, created slashed swales in addition to untreated dune and scrub woodland. In each vegetation stratum, we estimated the cover of L. laevigatum and quantified herbivore abundance by counting the standing crop of faecal pellets.

Key results . Relative to untreated vegetation, mechanical slashing of L. laevigatum substantially reduced cover of this species above 200 cm, but increased its cover below 30 cm. On the basis of faecal-pellet counts, multispecies use of managed and unmanaged parts of the landscape differed substantially, with the differences principally driven by higher abundance of European rabbits and eastern grey kangaroos at slashed sites.

Conclusions . The responses of three grazing species (kangaroo, rabbits and wombats) to vegetation management were predicted well by prior knowledge of diet and habitat preferences. This was not the case for the browser (swamp wallaby), nor for the grazer that consumes substantial amounts of browse in the study area (hog deer), and additional knowledge of the processes underlying their responses to vegetation change is required.

Implications . Our findings highlighted that vegetation management can influence herbivore abundances in the managed system. An improved understanding of these associations will allow vegetation management plans to incorporate herbivore responses.

© The authors 2016
Naomi E. Davis, Julian Di Stefano, Graeme Coulson, Jim Whelan, and John Wright "Vegetation management influences habitat use by mammalian herbivores in shrub-encroached grassy woodland," Wildlife Research 43(5), 438-447, (24 August 2016). https://doi.org/10.1071/WR15218
Received: 23 November 2015; Accepted: 1 July 2016; Published: 24 August 2016
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