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Title: Spatial pattern and process in the fragmentation of heather moorland
Author: Oom, Sander P.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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This study contributes to the understanding of spatial aspects of plant-herbivore interactions within a grazed grass-shrub mosaic in heather moorland, an internationally important ecosystem dominating much of the Scottish uplands. A three-year field experiment was conducted to observe plant-herbivore interactions between Scottish Blackface sheep and heather-grass mosaics. Modelling tools were used for virtual experiments, thus complementing and extending the field data. The experiment showed the importance of a spatially explicit approach to understanding the interactions. The pattern of use of the vegetation mosaics by sheep was strongly heterogeneous, with spatially limited areas of intensive use intermixed with large areas of extensive use. Foraging and ruminating behaviour showed distinctively different patterns of impact, indicating that multiple processes determined herbivore of vegetation mosaics and their concomitant impacts on the dynamics of the vegetation. Application of a spatial interaction model, previously used in human geography, to the field data revealed that the amount of grass in an area was a good predictor of the local heather defoliation. Heather defoliation was highest near large grass patches and lowest away from small grass patches. The virtual experiment showed further that cognitive aspects of foraging behaviour could play an important role in determining the pattern of use by herbivores. Performance of foraging strategies was strongly affected by the heterogeneity of the vegetation, suggesting that herbivores could adapt their foraging strategies depending on the pattern of vegetation. This study provides new insights into the spatial aspects of plant-herbivore interactions in grass-shrub mosaics and offers a starting point for more detailed investigations. At the same time the results necessitate the increased use of spatially explicit approaches in the management of grazed ecosystems.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available