The Effects of Native Shrub, Fencing, and Acorn Size on the Emergence of Contrasting Co-Occurring Oak in Mediterranean Grazed Areas

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Roberto Díaz-Hernández, José Luis Vicente Villardón, Carolina Martínez-Ruiz and Belén Fernández-Santos (2021) - The Effects of Native Shrub, Fencing, and Acorn Size on the Emergence of Contrasting Co-Occurring Oak in Mediterranean Grazed Areas - Forests

Research Highlights: The regeneration of Quercus species is usually very difficult in many oak woodlands transformed by livestock farming. Some studies have reported that shrubs can
facilitate regeneration. However, the strength of interaction may vary depending on, among other factors, the shrub species and the stress tolerance of the oak species. Moreover, further studies are
necessary to clarify the relative importance of the two facilitation mechanisms in the same community. Background and Objectives: Cytisus multiflorus (L’Her.) Sweet is a predominant shrub species in
the Mediterranean grazed open-oak-woodlands found in the central west of the Iberian Peninsula (bioclimatic limit) and is present with Quercus pyrenaicaWilld and Quercus ilex subsp. ballota Samp
trees. Thus, we assessed the effect of these native shrubs and acorn size, and the effect of excluding large herbivores, on the seedling emergence of two contrasting co-occurring Quercus species under
a bioclimatic limit. Materials and Methods: A manipulative field experiment was carried out considering four treatments as a combination of shrubs (shrub/no-shrub) and fence (fenced/open)
factors. A total of twenty plots, five replicates for each treatment were available. In each plot, 20 acorns were sown: 10 acorns (5 small and 5 large) for each Quercus species. Acorn emergence was
recorded during the first four years following the sowing. Results: Seedling emergence took place mostly in the spring of the first year after sowing. The presence of shrub was the main significant
factor and incremented the emergence of both Q. ilex and Q. pyrenaica. The effect of the fence depended on the Quercus species considered, improving only the emergence of Q. pyrenaica. A
negative effect with the small acorns was detected but only for Q. pyrenaica. In all treatments, Q. ilex emerged more than Q. pyrenaica. Conclusions: C. multiflorus had a clear facilitative effect on the
seedling emergence of Q. ilex and Q. pyrenaica, which was much greater than the physical effect that acorn size and excluding large herbivores had. As such, this native shrub may have a key role in
oak regeneration in Mediterranean grazed areas. Furthermore, in these areas of contact between marcescent and sclerophyllous Quercus species, Q. ilex currently emerges more than Q. pyrenaica. This
could be indicative of a shift towards more xeric climatic conditions, which could lead to a change in the dominant tree species in the future. However, this change could be modulated by the effects of
native shrub and large herbivores.

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