Question: In November 2000, Chusquea culeou, a bamboo species dominating Andean forest understories in southern Argentina and Chile, massively flowered and died over a north-south distance of ca. 120 km. Because bamboo is the major forage for large herbivores in these forests, we examined the interactive influences of the bamboo die-off and herbivory by introduced cattle on understory and tree regeneration.
Location: Lanín National Park, Argentina.
Methods: Permanent plots, in and outside livestock exclosures, were installed in a Nothofagus dombeyi forest in patches of flowered and non-flowered C. culeou. Plots were monitored over four years for changes in understory composition and tree seedling densities and heights.
Results: After the C. culeou die-off, new establishment of N. dombeyi was low, both with and without herbivory. Livestock alone directly increased N. dombeyi seedling mortality through physical damage. However, tree seedling browse ratings and height growth were interactively affected by bamboo flowering and herbivory; unfenced plots in flowered bamboo patches had the shortest seedlings, highest browse ratings, and lowest tree seedling annual growth rates. Understory cover was higher where livestock were excluded, and this effect was intensified in the patches of flowered bamboo. Neither herbivory nor bamboo flowering resulted in major changes in species composition, with the exception of Alstroemeria aurea
Conclusion: Effects of livestock on N. dombeyi regeneration were contingent on flowering of C. culeou Prior to introduction of livestock, N. dombeyi regeneration was probably successful beneath canopy gaps during windows of opportunity following bamboo die-off, but now livestock impede tree regeneration. Herbivory during bamboo withering periods also produces more open understories, particularly affecting palatable heliophyllous herb species such as Alstroemeria aurea The results underscore the importance of assessing herbivore impacts on tree regeneration during relatively short periods of potential tree regeneration immediately following rare bamboo flowering and die-off.
Nomenclature: Correa (1969-1984).