Differential effects of goat browsing on herbaceous plant community in a two-phase mosaic

O. Gabay, A. Perevolotsky, A. Bar Massada, Y. Carmel, M. Shachak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impact of herbivores on herbaceous plant communities is usually attributed to direct consumption of plants. We hypothesized that goats affect herbaceous plants both directly (consumption by foraging) and indirectly, by changing environmental conditions through modification of woody plant structure. We assessed the effects of goats browsing on environmental conditions, landscape structure, and herbaceous plants to link the direct and indirect effects of goats on herbaceous communities. Our model system was the Mediterranean woodland in Mt. Carmel, Israel. This is a two-phase mosaic landscape, composed of herbaceous (open) and woody patches. We delineated 10 plots of 1000 m2, goats were introduced to five plots and five plots remained without goats. We monitored plant species richness and composition in two adjacent patch types (woody and open) in each plot. For each patch type, in all plots, we collected data on environmental conditions. We analyzed landscape structure using landscape metrics derived from a high-resolution vegetation map. We found that goats modified the structure of woody plants and hence the landscape mosaic. This alteration was associated with changes in environmental conditions, with more light penetration and higher temperatures. The impact of goats on the herbaceous plant community depended on patch type. In open patches, goats affected the herbaceous community mostly by direct consumption, whereas in woody patches they affected the herbaceous community mainly by modification of abiotic conditions. Our results stress the importance of considering landscape and patch structure in analyzing the effect of herbivory on plant communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1643-1653
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The study was supported by grant 1077-03 from the Israel Science Foundation. We wish to thank the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the Rene Karschon Foundation for financial support. We also thank the Ramat Hanadiv team for technical and financial help, and Hagit Bara’m for her assistance in data analysis.


  • Ecosystem engineers
  • Environmental conditions
  • Grazing
  • Mediterranean woodland
  • Patchiness
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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