Wild boar rooting intensity determines shifts in understorey composition and functional traits

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Abstract

In recent decades, the European populations of wild boar have grown substantially, as has the impact of this species, owing above all to its rooting activity. Our aim was to investigate the relationships between vascular plant understorey and wild boar rooting intensity. The questions we addressed are: does rooting intensity influence understorey species composition and diversity? Which functional traits are associated with different levels of rooting? We performed a comparative analysis of plant communities in areas with contrasting levels of rooting intensity within a Mediterranean deciduous lowland forest in central Italy. Besides comparing species composition and diversity, we tested the association between species traits and rooting levels through fourth-corner analysis. We found that contrasting levels of rooting were associated to different understorey species composition and evenness, while we observed no significant difference in species richness. In contrast with our expectations, sites with lower rooting returned i) lower evenness values and ii) a higher proportion of species characterized by traits related to resistance or response to herbivory, i.e., spinescence, clonality, endozoochory, underground storage organs, and low height values. Our findings suggest that current vegetation patterns partly depend on the legacy effect of past rooting disturbance, since the areas currently subjected to low rooting intensity were likely to be intensely rooted in the past. These areas may have developed a marked dominance of clonal thorny species that, in turn, inhibited further feeding activities by wild boar.

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Burrascano, S., Copiz, R., Del Vico, E., Fagiani, S., Giarrizzo, E., Mei, M., … Blasi, C. (2015). Wild boar rooting intensity determines shifts in understorey composition and functional traits. Community Ecology, 16(2), 244–253. https://doi.org/10.1556/168.2015.16.2.12

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