Effect of the forest-mine boundary form on woody colonization and forest expansion in degraded ecosystems

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Martínez-Ruiz, C.; Milder, A.I.; López-Marcos, D.; Zaldívar, P.; Fernández-Santos, B. (2021) - Effect of the forest-mine boundary form on woody colonization and forest expansion in degraded ecosystems - Forests/MDPI

We evaluated the ecological significance of the boundary form between two patches with contrasting vegetation (mine grassland and adjacent forest) on woody colonization and forest expansion in open-cast coal mines in Northern Spain. Woody colonization and browsing traces were measured on three mine sites, along 24 transects that were laid out perpendicular to the forest-mine boundary and classified according to their shape (concave, convex, straight). Mine sites were colonized from the close forest by woody species, whose colonization intensity depends on the boundary form. The overall colonization intensity decreased with increasing distance to the forest and differed depending on the boundary form. The more intense colonization was found in concave boundaries and the strongest decrease in convex boundaries close to the forest, whereas straight boundaries showed an intermediate colonization pattern. Concave boundaries reached higher woody cover in the basal strata of the mines than convex (up to 2 m) or straight boundaries (up to 1 m) from 11 m to the forest edge, mainly by the presence of dense patches of Cytisus scoparius (L.) Link, with a scattered overstory of Genista florida L. These shrubs might reduce the browsing ntiensity and act as nurse plants facilitating the establishment of Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl. in mine areas at greater distances from the forest edge. The forest-mine boundary form does not affect the forest vertical structure that is homogenous and does not help explain the woody colonization pattern in the mines. We conclude that edge characteristics have a strong potential to be used in the of native forests based on natural processes. The implications of our results for sessile oak (Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl.) forest expansion along edges in fragmented Mediterranean forest restoration landscapes were discussed.

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