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Moose and vole browsing patterns in experimentally assembled pure and mixed forest stands

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Plants growing in diverse communities are believed to exhibit associational resistance to herbivores, but this hypothesis has seldom been tested experimentally for vertebrate herbivores in forest ecosystems. We examined browsing patterns of the two principal mammalian herbivores of Finnish boreal forests, moose and voles, in young stands where tree species diversity and composition were experimentally manipulated. The stands were composed either of monocultures or different 2–5 species mixtures of Norway spruce, Scots pine, Siberian larch, silver birch, and black alder. Voles and moose showed contrasting responses to stand diversity and species composition. In accordance with the predictions of the associational resistance hypothesis, vole damage was higher in tree monocultures than in mixed stands, although stand diversity effects were statistically significant only at one of the three study areas. Voles also damaged more trees in coniferous than in deciduous stands. In contrast, moose browsing tended to increase with the number of tree species in a stand and with the presence of the preferred tree species, birch, in a mixture. The observed differences in vole and moose responses to stand diversity and species composition are likely to be due to different feeding specialisation, foraging patterns, and movement ability of these herbivores. Voles switched to trees only when the supply of a more preferred food (grasses and forbs) was depleted and restricted their feeding choice only to the most palatable tree species regardless of the number of tree species present per stand. In contrast, tree branches and foliage represented an important part of moose diet throughout the year; moose may be able to tolerate secondary plant metabolites of different tree species better than voles and may thus benefit from diet broadening when more tree species are available. Furthermore, the home range size and foraging ability of these two very differently sized herbivores may partly explain the observed differences in utilisation of different tree species. Finally, both moose and voles showed high spatial and temporal variation in their feeding; in particular, vole damage was more influenced by tree species diversity in areas and years with high vole densities. Thus, diversification of forest stands may have very different effects on mammalian browsing depending on the herbivores present, their densities, and the tree species used in reforestation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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