Forage patch use by grazing herbivores in a South African grazing ecosystem

J.A. Venter, J. Nabe-Nielsen, H.H.T. Prins, R. Slotow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Understanding how different herbivores make forage patch use choices explains how they maintain an adequate nutritional status, which is important for effective conservation management of grazing ecosystems. Using telemetry data, we investigated nonruminant zebra (Equus burchelli) and ruminant red hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus subspecies camaa), use of burnt patches in a landscape mosaic of nutrient-poor, old grassland interspersed with young, recently burnt, nutrient-rich grass patches. The Mkambati Nature Reserve landscape on the east coast of South Africa provided large grazers with a challenge in finding and using appropriate patches in which to forage to meet their nutritional requirements. In Mkambati, grassland fires, mostly ignited by poachers, induce regrowth of young nutrient-rich grass, which subsequently attract grazers. We tested if the study animals foraged more in burnt patches than in the unburned grassland and whether burnt patch use was related to the distance to the previously visited burnt patch, burnt patch size, burnt patch age, and distance to areas with high poaching risk using MANOVA. In general, zebra moved faster than red hartebeest, and both species moved faster in unburnt grassland than in burnt patches. Red hartebeest and zebra patch selection were influenced by interpatch distance, patch age, patch size, and poaching risk. A limited set of intrinsic traits, i.e., body mass, digestion strategy, and muzzle width, yielded different patch use rules for the two species. Large ungulates patch use behaviour varied among species and across conditions and was influenced by anthropogenic impacts such as poaching and changed fire regimes. This could potentially affect biodiversity negatively and needs to be factored into management of conservation areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-466
JournalActa Theriologica
Volume59
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • predation risk
  • heterogeneous pastures
  • antipredator response
  • distribution patterns
  • behavioral-responses
  • habitat selection
  • seed dispersal
  • burned patches
  • wolf predation
  • elk

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