Soil and vegetation nutrient response to bison carcasses in Bialowieza Primeval Forest, Poland

C. Melis, N. Selva, I.J.M. Teurlings, C. Skarpe, J.D.C. Linnell, R. Andersen

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Ungulate carcasses can have important effects on the surrounding soil and vegetation. The impact of six carcasses of European bison (Bison bonasus) was investigated for the first time in a natural temperate forest (Bialeowieza, Poland) by measuring soil and plant nutrient concentrations along a gradient extending from the centre of each carcass. Calcium concentration and pH were found to be higher at the centre of the carcass, decreasing towards the periphery. This effect lasted up to 7 years after the death of the animal. The concentration of most nutrients in the soil and plants varied irregularly, suggesting an effect of the carcass at its centre but the absence of a clear pattern of variation along the gradient. Concentrations of NO3- in the soil differed only at the 1-year old carcass, suggesting a fast turnover of nitrate in temperate forests. Our results show that the effects of large herbivore carcasses on soil and plant nutrient concentrations are not easily detectable in a temperate forest as in more homogeneous habitats, such as tundra and prairie. This may be due to the high activity of scavengers and nutrient recycling in the study area, but it may also be a consequence of a more complex and patchy interaction between nutrient availability and other limiting factors in temperate forests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-813
JournalEcological Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • herbivores
  • scavengers
  • energy


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