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Changes in Vegetation Since the Advent of Myxomatosis

A. S. Thomas
Journal of Ecology
Vol. 48, No. 2 (Jun., 1960), pp. 287-306
DOI: 10.2307/2257519
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2257519
Page Count: 24
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Changes in Vegetation Since the Advent of Myxomatosis
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Abstract

1. Evidence indicates that rabbits had little influence on British vegetation before 1840 or 1850, except in the warrens where they were preserved. 2. A short account is given of the changes in plants observed during the last 4 years since the advent of myxomatosis and the virtual disappearance of rabbits. 3. These changes were observed by repeated records of point-quadrats at intervals along a series of fixed transects in places where rabbits had been abundant. The total length of the transects was nearly 5 miles (8 km) and the number of point-quadrats, most of which were recorded twice a year, was about twelve thousand. 4. After the death of the rabbits, the turf increased in height and there was a spectacular increase in the abundance of flowers, especially of orchids in some places. But already there is an indication that in the absence of grazing the turf may lose its density, and possibly its botanical interest, as some plants--even the grasses--show a tendency to decrease in quantity. 5. There has been an increase of woody plants. Brambles have grown greatly, and so have gorse bushes; their seedlings and those of many other woody plants are becoming much more common in grasslands and in woods. Calluna vulgaris is appearing in places where, owing to close grazing, its presence was not evident before. 6. As it is only a short time since the rabbits have died and as some changes already are being reversed, this event of major ecological importance merits careful observation and record. For it is possible that the course of plant succession observed in the presence of rabbits differs from the succession in their absence.

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