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Philipps-Universität Marburg (2012)

Fragment quality rather than matrix habitat shapes forest regeneration in a South African mosaic-forest landscape

Botzat, Alexandra

Titre : Fragment quality rather than matrix habitat shapes forest regeneration in a South African mosaic-forest landscape

Auteur : Botzat, Alexandra

Université de soutenance : Philipps-Universität Marburg

Grade : Doktorgrades der Naturwissenschaften (Dr. rer. nat.) 2012

Résumé partiel
Land-use change and agricultural intensification are responsible for a global decline of forest cover entailing the fragmentation of forests. Landscapes are increasingly shaped by a mosaic of forest fragments within variable matrix habitat. It is thus essential to understand how these habitat alterations influence function and stability of forest ecosystems. However, the complex relationships between anthropogenic disturbance of forests, concurrent species loss and ecosystem functions are not fully clarified yet. In the present thesis, I investigated the impact of structural forest fragment quality and variable matrix habitat on biodiversity and ecological processes of forest regeneration. For this purpose, I conducted three studies in a fragmented mosaic-forest landscape in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In particular, I assessed (1) seed predation by rodents, (2) establishment of woody seedlings and saplings, and (3) leaf damage on woody seedlings and saplings by insects and pathogens in 24 study plots in scarp forest fragments. These fragments were embedded in four variable matrices : two natural, heterogenous (forest, grassland) and two modified, homogenous matrices (eucalypt plantations, sugarcane fields). In the first field study I assessed rodent diversity and conducted seed predation experiments. As a measure for forest fragment quality important for rodents, I estimated herbal ground vegetation cover. For the second study I identified all trees on 500 m², seedlings on 10 m² and saplings on 50 m² per study plot. I categorized trees, seedlings and saplings as either early- or late-successional species. Moreover, I differentiated between seedlings and saplings of external and local origin depending on the presence of conspecific adult tress within fragments to be able to identify potential seed influx by seed dispersers. Additionally, I measured canopy cover, light intensity and vegetation complexity as parameters of forest fragment quality relevant to seedling establishment. In the third study I used beating samples to collect the arthropod community. Furthermore, I estimated proportions of leaf damage by insect herbivory and leaf pathogens on woody seedlings and saplings. I determined tree diversity, canopy cover and vegetation complexity in terms of forest fragment quality. My investigations showed an increase of rodents and seed predation in small forest fragments, potentially caused by enhanced ground vegetation cover. Especially in fragments with sugarcane matrix rodent abundance and seed predation were significantly higher than in fragments with forest matrix. Further, I found reduced seedling and sapling establishment in forest fragments with modified homogenous surroundings. In particular, these fragments consisted of less late-successional species

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