Pereira, G.A., Rosalino, L.M., Teixeira, D., Castro, G., Magalhães, A., Lima, C., Fonseca, C.F. & Torres, R.T. (2022) Eucalyptus plantations alter spatiotemporal relationships of wild ungulates.Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, 340, 108174. DOI:10.1016/j.agee.2022.108174 (IF2021 6,576; Q1 Ecology)
Eucalyptus plantations, the second most economically important exotic tree in Europe, cover circa 1,5 million hectares on this continent. However, little is known about their effect on the ecological patterns of widely distributed and increasing populations of wild ungulates. This lack of knowledge jeopardizes our ability to correctly manage these populations in increasingly ubiquitous exotic forests. We aimed to understand how exotic forestry plantations influence ungulates spatial and temporal dimensions of their niche and determine how the species interactions may be changed by these artificial systems. We used roe deer and red deer as wildlife models, the Portuguese Eucalyptus plantation as standards for forestry plantations, and camera-trapping, occupancy modeling, and kernel density estimators as tools to fulfill our goals. Eucalyptus plantations had a strong effect on roe deer and red deer spatial behavior when compared to areas dominated by native vegetation. Both species seem to avoid disturbed areas such as agricultural land and Eucalyptus plantations. Even when using plantations, they shift their activity to reduce human encounters. Furthermore, plantations are not a homogeneous landcover, and thus distinct production phases of Eucalyptus plantations affect species interactions and activity patterns differently. Our results show that the pre-harvesting phases seem to be the more critical period for deer. Thus, production forest managers must guarantee that plantation structure encompasses areas with different tree ages to minimize this effect and fulfill deer’s food and cover requirements. Forestry activities should avoid dawn and dusk, to minimize disturbance and to reduce the negative interaction between sympatric guild members, by allowing species to be sparsely distributed (and not clustered in the few undisturbed patches). Plantations should include dispersed native patches to which animals may move in search of food and refuge, therefore creating discontinuities within plantations.