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[ID: 349] ERICA: The influence of forest management, climate and browsing on the nutritional quality of key ungulate forage plants

PI: Annika Felton

Production forestry and large herbivores strongly affect the delivery of forest ecosystem services in Sweden. Mediating these affects are ericaceous shrubs (family Ericaceae), which include bilberry (V. myrtillus), cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), and heather (Calluna vulgaris). These species dominate the understory of northern forests and are a key food resource for large wild herbivores. Despite this importance, knowledge is lacking regarding how forest management and large herbivores interact to determine the occurrence and food provision of ericaceous shrubs, and in-turn, how these relationships are affected by climate change. Without this knowledge, the effectiveness of integrated game and forest management is curtailed, as we cannot accurately project the feedbacks and interactions between forest management decisions, game food resources, and forest damage. Likewise, forest owners and managers lack the ability to make evidence-based decisions when deciding among alternative production tree species and silvicultural prescriptions. The aim of this project is to assess how forest management, climate and browsing affects the nutritional quality of forage for large wild herbivores of the family Cervidae (including moose, roe deer and other deer species; hereon cervids). We focus on the ericaceous dwarf shrubs as they constitute a significant share of the cervids’ diet in boreal and boreo-nemoral landscapes (up to 30% of annual diet) and are expected to have substantial effects on their foraging behaviour. To achieve our aim, we will use surveys and experiments to quantify the nutrients that these dwarf shrubs provide ungulates under different site conditions, microclimate, canopy characteristics, seasons and multispecies cervid browsing pressure, across Sweden. This study is part of a larger research program called ERICA, in which we focus on the quantity of forage produced by the ericaceous shrubs, and how this is affected by forest management and browsing. The project proposed here complements ERICA well by filling knowledge gaps regarding the quality of the forage. In combination, our results will decipher how different production forest alternatives change the long-term availability, quality and distribution of cervid forage in Sweden.

forest managementclimatebrowsingforageherbivoresshrubs