Damage to artificial seedlings across a disturbed Afromontane forest landscape

Fredrick Ssali*, Stein R. Moe, Douglas Sheil

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Seedling mortality is an important demographic bottleneck for forest regeneration, yet the factors influencing recruitment are often poorly characterized across space and time. In African highlands, where extensive patches of previously disturbed forests remain in persistent shrub-dominated states, patterns of damage to seedlings have not been examined in detail. We used artificial seedlings to determine how (non-herbivory-related) damage varies across a fragmented forest landscape in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. A total of 848 artificial seedlings were established in 106 plots, each with 8 seedlings, across a gradient of environmental factors, including habitat type, topographic position, distance to water, and distance to human activity. We divided damage into that due to vertebrates, plant debris, and unknown agents. From our 16,960 monthly stem assessments, 1,289 damage events were recorded. The mean “seedling” damage per year (± 1 SE) was 59.5 ± 2.3%. Damage was significantly more frequent in sites dominated by short herbs (66.1 ± 3.0) than in sites dominated by shrubs (60.1 ± 2.6) and ferns (47.9 ± 2.7). The mean percentage of damage by each class of agents was 45.8 ± 2.1% for vertebrates, 21.4 ± 2.1% for plant debris, and 3.8 ± 0.6% for unknown agents. These rates surpass those reported in other montane forests, likely reflecting the density of large vertebrates in our site. Our results indicate that most damage to artificial seedlings arises from larger vertebrates but that most spatial variation in this damage reflects the impacts of falling plant debris. These damage processes appear sufficient to constrain the regeneration of tree species in areas where forest cover is patchy and fragmented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)652-663
Number of pages12
JournalBiotropica
Volume51
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Bwindi
  • forest regeneration
  • herbivores
  • plant debris
  • seedling damage
  • thick understory
  • topographic variation

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