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Differential effects of ecosystem engineering by the superb lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae and herbivory by large mammals on floristic regeneration and structure in wet eucalypt forests

Cite this dataset

Maisey, Alex (2023). Differential effects of ecosystem engineering by the superb lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae and herbivory by large mammals on floristic regeneration and structure in wet eucalypt forests [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.cjsxksn7v

Abstract

Ecosystem engineers that modify soil and ground-layer properties exert a strong influence on vegetation communities in ecosystems worldwide. Understanding the interactions between animal engineers and vegetation is challenging when in the presence of large herbivores, as many vegetation communities are simultaneously affected by both engineering and herbivory. The superb lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae, an ecosystem engineer in wet forests of south-eastern Australia, extensively modifies litter and soil on the forest floor. The aim of this study was to disentangle the impacts of engineering by lyrebirds and herbivory by large mammals on the composition and structure of ground-layer vegetation. We carried out a two-year, manipulative exclusion experiment in the Central Highlands of Victoria, Australia. We compared three treatments: fenced plots with simulated lyrebird foraging; fenced plots excluding herbivores and lyrebirds; and open controls. This design allowed assessment of the relative impacts of engineering and herbivory on germination rates, seedling density, vegetation cover and structure, and community composition. Engineering by lyrebirds enhanced the germination of seeds in the litter layer. After two years, more than double the number of germinants were present in ‘engineered’ than ‘non-engineered’ plots. Engineering did not affect the density of seedlings, but herbivory had strong detrimental effects. Herbivory also reduced the floristic richness and structural complexity (< 0.5 m) of forest vegetation, including the cover of herbs. Neither process altered the floristic composition of the vegetation within the 2-year study period. Ecosystem engineering by lyrebirds and herbivory by large mammals both influence the structure of forest-floor vegetation. The two-fold increase in seeds stimulated to germinate by engineering may contribute to the evolutionary adaptation of plants by allowing greater phenotypic expression and selection than would otherwise occur. Over long timescales, engineering and herbivory likely combine to maintain a more-open forest floor conducive to ongoing ecosystem engineering by lyrebirds.

Methods

We compared three treatments: fenced plots with simulated lyrebird foraging; fenced plots excluding herbivores and lyrebirds; and open controls. This design allowed assessment of the relative impacts of engineering and herbivory on germination rates, seedling density, vegetation cover and structure, and community composition, measured in the field.

Funding

Equity Trustees