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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: November 2009

7 - Large herbivores: missing partners of western European light‐demanding tree and shrub species?



The landscape of the temperate zone of western Europe has a long history of human occupation and impact. As the development of agriculture and the growth of the human population coincided with climate change since the last ice age, it is difficult to picture the landscape without human intervention. Based on palaeoecological data and reference sites, several authors state that temperate Europe without human influence would have been covered with a closed‐canopy broad‐leaved forest in places where trees can grow (Ellenberg 1988, Peterken 1996). This perception is hereafter called ‘the classical forest theory’. This forest type is thought to have regenerated by means of small or large gaps, or large windblown areas, where young trees could grow up. Indigenous species of large herbivores that lived within the range of this forest ecosystem are considered forest dwellers. In temperate Europe this applies to the Holocene aurochs (Bos primigenius), tarpan (Equus przewalski gmelini), red deer (Cervus elaphus), moose (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and European bison (Bison bonasus). The animals would not have had a substantial influence on the forest, but have followed the development in the vegetation (Tansley 1935, Iversen 1960, Whittaker 1977). The role of large herbivores in the broad‐leaved forests is often discussed because the animals can prevent the regeneration of trees in the forest (see Chapter 6 in this book). When large herbivores, such as deer, cattle and horses, are excluded from forests, this usually stimulates recruitment (Peterken & Tubbs 1965, Putman et al.

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