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Unpaved road verges as hotspots of fleshy-fruited shrub recruitment and establishment

AuthorsSuárez-Esteban, Alberto ; Delibes, M. ; Fedriani, José M.
Issue Date2013
CitationBiological Conservation, 167: 50-56 (2013)
AbstractHypothetical low-quality habitats can hold an overlooked conservation value. Some frugivorous mam- mals such as the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) disperse many viable seeds of fleshy-fruited shrubs along the verges of soft linear developments (SLD), such as trails and firebreaks. However, seed arrival does not guarantee plant recruitment, since several post-dispersal processes can alter seed rain. To examine whether SLD verges assist shrub recruitment and establish- ment, we compared the density and the structure of a community of Mediterranean shrubs between SLD verges and the adjacent scrubland. Both seedlings and adult fleshy-fruited shrubs dispersed by foxes and rabbits reached higher densities along SLD verges than in the scrubland, suggesting SLD verges can be suitable habitats for shrub recruit- ment and establishment. Bird-dispersed shrubs showed a similar pattern, whereas shrubs dispersed by ungulates and badgers (Meles meles) as well as rockroses (Cistaceae) showed similar densities in both hab- itats. Shrub species composition and diversity were similar between habitats. Due to a marked differential seed arrival, SLD verges housed higher densities of fleshy-fruited shrubs than the adjacent scrubland. Established shrubs may attract seed-dispersing wildlife, and create proper environments for plant recruitment, generating a reforestation feedback. Incipient shrub populations along roadsides may act as stepping stones with potential to connect isolated populations in fragmented landscapes, where SLD are pervasive. We recommend careful management of frugivore populations and SLD verges in order to favor the diversity and the structural complexity of native vegetation while preventing the spread of invasive species.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2013.07.022
Appears in Collections:(EBD) Artículos
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