Stress or help, how does the grey heron Ardea cinerea L. modify the vegetation structure of the forest floor?

Wiktoria Hryń, Joanna Czarnecka, Ignacy Kitowski, Piotr Bartmiński, Robert Zubel


The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is a good example of an engineering species that forms nesting colonies (called heronries) composed of up to a few hundred nests during the breeding season. It exerts strong pressure on surrounding vegetation, mainly because of the heavy input of organic matter and high eutrophication. The birds also alter light conditions through direct tree damage. We aimed to examine the influence of a grey heron breeding colony on the soil properties and functional composition of the herb layer in two different forest communities: a suboceanic pine forest and a riparian mixed forest. We also wanted to establish whether these changes would make the forest ecosystem more vulnerable to colonization by nonforest species with higher light and trophic demands. Small-seeded, light demanding eutrophic species showed a tendency to be more abundant under the nests in both forest types. The calculated odds ratio (OR) showed that the probability of the presence of nonforest species under the nests was 29.5 times higher than that in the control plots (56 plants species were analyzed). Additionally, the nonforest species appeared to have high light and trophic demand (OR of 12.3 for light demand; OR of 7.0 for trophic demand), which explains the species turnover observed in the bird-affected microhabitats.


engineering species; vegetation transformation; ruderal species; pine forest; riparian forest; soil properties

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