NKFIH PD 132131 (2019-2022)
Novel aspects of the ecosystem engineering effects of woody plants
Project leader: Csaba Tölgyesi
The research focuses on two aspects of the ecology and conservation of woody-grassy habitat mosaics: (i) Using grazing exclosures, we study the effects of solitary mature trees on the biomass production, functional composition and species diversity of the herb layer and on soil properties including water balance, carbon sequestration and seed bank. (ii) We also study the regional hydrological effects of natural woody and grassy communities and tree plantations in forest-steppe ecosystems.
The aim of the research is to improve our understanding of the ecosystem engineering effects of woody species on their abiotic environment and the herb layer vegetation. We will focus on two understudied aspects of the topic. First, we will study the effects of woody species on deeper soil layers, with a special attention on their annual moisture cycles, and place the findings in the context of traditionally studied effects of woody species (microclimate, topsoil moisture, etc.). Our results will help better understanding ecological mechanisms driving forest-grassland mosaics. Results will be used for linking site and regional level effects of woody species into a coherent multiscale framework, which can, for example, help us formulating recommendations on sustainable forest management. In the second topic we focus on a situation where considerable herbivore pressure (incl. grazing, manuring and trampling) interacts with the primary effects of woody species. The study will be realized in wood-pastures, which represent one of the most ancient land use types in Europe. They harbour high biodiversity and significantly contribute to the livelihood of local people. However, wood-pastures are threatened all across the continent due to land use changes related to deficiencies in the common agricultural policy of the EU and social-economic changes. Thus, there is a need for evidence-based conservation and management options to improve the situation. Beyond understanding elementary ecological interactions in wood-pastures, our research also aims to fill this gap of knowledge.