Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Contrasting feeding patterns of native red deer and two exotic ungulates in a Mediterranean ecosystem

María Miranda A D , Marisa Sicilia A , Jordi Bartolomé B , Eduarda Molina-Alcaide C , Lucía Gálvez-Bravo A and Jorge Cassinello A

A Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas – Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha – Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ronda de Toledo s/n, 13071 Ciudad Real, Spain.

B Grup de Recerca en Remugants, Departament de Ciència Animal i dels Aliments, Facultat de Veterinària, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain.

C Estación Experimental del Zaidín – Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (EEZ-CSIC), Camino del Jueves s/n, 18100 Granada, Spain.

D Corresponding author. Present address: School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa. Email: maria.mirandaroves@gmail.com, maria.miranda@wits.ac.za

Wildlife Research 39(2) 171-182 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR11146
Submitted: 8 August 2011  Accepted: 23 January 2012   Published: 26 March 2012

Abstract

Context: Ungulates have been widely introduced in multiple ecosystems throughout the world due to their value as food and for sport hunting. The identification of foraging preferences of exotic and native ungulates living in sympatry is, therefore, becoming increasingly important in order to assess potential impacts of introduced animals on the host ecosystem.

Aims: To describe species-specific foraging strategies and infer resource selection overlap between native and exotic ungulates.

Methods: We compared the trophic ecology of three sympatric ungulate species living in a Mediterranean landscape: the native Iberian red deer Cervus elaphus hispanicus, and two exotic bovids, the European mouflon Ovis orientalis musimon and the aoudad Ammotragus lervia. We simultaneously determined herbivore diet through analyses of botanical content in faeces and assessed the nutritional content of these diets.

Key results: Higher selection of shrubs by deer was sustained throughout the year, while bovids showed seasonal shifts in forage selection. Both bovids displayed a selective dietary strategy directed towards a higher overall nutritional quality than that of deer. Divergent exploitation patterns between the studied cervid and bovids might be related to body mass and physiological adaptations to overcome secondary defence compounds of shrubs, and were largely affected by seasonal changes in the nutritional value of available vegetation. Ecological theory suggests that diet overlap should be greater between similar-sized species. Indeed, both exotics showed similar, sometimes overlapping, dietary patterns that could lead to potential competition in the use of resources. Native red deer preferences only showed some overlap with those of exotic mouflon under constrained summer conditions.

Conclusions: Dietary overlap between deer and mouflon and between aoudad and mouflon during limiting summer conditions could entail a potential competitive interaction under more even densities of the study species, since a concurrent habitat overlap between those pairs of species has previously been reported.

Implications: The outcomes of our study suggest the need for an integration of habitat and ungulate management. Management actions in Mediterranean rangelands should be directed towards protecting habitat conditions so that biodiversity is enhanced along with the presence of sustainable communities of large herbivores. Management directed towards ungulates should maintain moderate stocking rates and monitor and control introduced and native populations.


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