Rodent population dynamics affect seedling recruitment in alpine habitats
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionJournal of Vegetation Science. 2014, 25 (4), 1004-1014. 10.1111/jvs.12163
Questions How do rodents with cyclic population dynamics affect seedling recruitment in alpine habitats? Does disturbance from rodents have larger implications on seedling recruitment in some plant communities than in others? Location Snowbeds and sheltered heaths in the low-alpine zone in areas of Børgefjell and Dovrefjell, Norway. Methods We recorded seedling emergence, rodent activity and cover of mosses, lichens, litter and bare ground in 270 plots in snowbeds and sheltered heaths in a rodent population peak year and in the following low-density year. Results Seedling recruitment was positively correlated with disturbances from lemmings and voles in both years. More seedlings emerged in the low-density year than in the year of the population peak. Snowbeds had higher seedling recruitment than the sheltered heaths, but both habitats were equally affected by disturbances from rodents. Conclusions Rodent activity created gaps and increased seedling emergence in these alpine plant communities, particularly in the year after the rodent peak, both in snowbeds and sheltered heath habitats. Our study therefore suggests that regeneration patterns in alpine vegetation are tightly linked to the population cycles of lemmings and voles, which peak in density at 3- to 5-yr intervals.