CIE Spotlight: Recruitment of a keystone tree species must concurrently manage flooding and browsing

Shaun C.

Shaun C.

Title: Recruitment of a keystone tree species must concurrently manage flooding and browsing

Authors: Gillis J. Horner, Shaun C. Cunningham, James R. Thomson, Patrick J. Baker and Ralph Mac Nally

Source: Journal of Applied Ecology (published online 1 JAN 2016)

Brief summary of the paper: Multiple pressures (land-use change, water extraction and climate change) interact to influence biodiversity and ecosystem processes, but direct evidence for interactions among multiple pressures is limited. Floodplain forests are an acute example of how interacting pressures (river regulation, water extraction, decreasing rainfall and mammal browsing) interact to degrade native ecosystems.

We conducted a 2-year field experiment to determine how flooding, browsing and sediment salinity interacted to determine in situ seedling survival and growth of the keystone floodplain tree species (Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh.). On semi-arid floodplains of southern Australia, 1-year-old seedlings were planted on the banks of six ephemeral creeks, three of which were flooded with management flows before planting while the others remained dry. Four plots were established at each creek, two open to browsing and two fenced to exclude mammal herbivores.

Flooding had a strong positive effect on seedling survival and height, but browsing had strong negative effects. Sediment salinity (a covariate rather than a designed effect) had a weak negative effect on seedling survival and height.

The positive effects of flooding were largely offset by the negative interaction with browsing and, to a lesser extent, sediment salinity.

Although flooding has been restored to some degraded floodplain forests subjected to river regulation and a drying climate, the long-term success of such actions is likely to be undermined by persistent browsing.

Synthesis and applications. Management actions that focus on single pressures (e.g. infrequent flooding) and processes (e.g. mature tree survival) while ignoring other pressures are unlikely to sustain populations of keystone species, suggesting that complementary strategies (managed flooding with herbivore control) are necessary to sustain recruitment and, therefore, ensure the future health of these essential ecosystems.

A blog post, written y the authors, on the research is available via The Applied Ecologist’s blog.