New paper: Quantification of large herbivore populations… using dung fungal spores

Baker et al. (2016) Quantification of population sizes of large herbivores and their long-term functional role in ecosystems using dung fungal spores. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Article first published online: 12 MAY 2016

You’ll be interested in our latest paper developing the dung fungal spore method and published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

With this paper and our 2013 review (see this post), my co-authors and I open the path for improved quantitative reconstruction of large herbivore population sizes. These quantitative reconstructions will be critical for any future research to contribute to topical themes such as rewilding, megafauna and ecosystem function.

Most of the research examining the relationship between large herbivores and their impact on landscapes has used extant studies. An alternative approach is to estimate the impact of variations in herbivore populations through time using fossil dung fungal spores and pollen in sedimentary sequences. The ponds at Oostvaardersplassen provided the ideal setting  to develop further the dung fungal spore method and determine the relationship between spore abundance in sediments and herbivore biomass densities. Our results indicate that this method provides a robust quantitative measure of herbivore population size over time.

The Oostvaardersplassen, The Netherlands, is a nature reserve established on polder land. Re-wilding was initiated at this site from 1983 with the introduction of free-ranging Heck cattle (Bos taurus Linnaeus) in 1983, Konik horses (Equus ferus caballus Linnaeus) in 1984 and red deer (Cervus elaphus Linnaeus) in 1992. Moreover, 1001 ponds were created throughout the reserve between 1985 and 2000 for avian biodiversity. The site is managed with a policy of minimal intervention, i.e. the population size of freely roaming large herbivores is not controlled by culling, no supplementary feeding is given during winter and no management intervention is implemented to maintain vegetation.

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