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Resource partitioning among African savanna herbivores in North Cameroon: the importance of diet composition, food quality and body mass

  • H. H. de Iongh (a1), C. B. de Jong (a2), J. van Goethem (a1), E. Klop (a1), A. M. H. Brunsting (a2), P. E. Loth (a1) and H. H. T. Prins (a2)...

Abstract:

The relationship between herbivore diet quality, and diet composition (the range of food plants consumed) and body mass on resource partitioning of herbivores remains the subject of an ongoing scientific debate. In this study we investigated the importance of diet composition and diet quality on resource partitioning among eight species of savanna herbivore in north Cameroon, with different body mass. Dung samples of four to seven wild herbivore and one domesticated species were collected in the field during the dry and wet period. Diet composition was based on microhistological examination of herbivore droppings, epidermis fragments were identified to genus or family level. In addition, the quality of the faecal droppings was determined in terms of phosphorus, nitrogen and fibre concentrations. The results showed that there was no significant correlation between body mass and (differences in) diet composition for wet and dry season. When all species are considered, only significant relationships are found by the Spearman rank correlation analyses during the wet season between body mass and phosphorus and nitrogen, but this relationship did not exist during the dry season. When the analyses focuses on ruminants only (thus leaving out hippo), none of the relationships between body mass and diet quality was significant in either season. During the dry season the proportion of graminoids ranged between 10% (small unidentified herbivore species) to 90% (hippopotamus), during the wet season this proportion ranged from 60% (zebu) to 90% (hippopotamus). All species but zebu had more graminoids in their dung during wet season compared with dry season. However all species but hartebeest had more graminoids old stems in their dung during the dry season, compared with the wet season. The niche breadth for food categories consumed by kob (0.300), hippo (0.090), hartebeest (0.350), roan (0.510) and zebu (0.300) was much greater in the dry season than in the wet season for kob (0.120), hippo (0.020), hartebeest (0.190), roan (0.090) and zebu (0.200). When looking at grass taxa consumed, the niche breadth of kob (0.220), hartebeest (0.140), and roan (0.250) was also greater in the dry season when compared with the wet season for kob (0.050), hartebeest (0.120) and roan (0.120). The opposite was found for zebu and hippo. Comparison of the species’ diet compositions with randomized data showed that dietary overlap between different herbivore species was much higher than what would be expected on the basis of chance, demonstrating surprisingly limited niche separation between species. This offers potential for competition, but it is more likely that the high niche overlap indicates absence of competition, due to low herbivore densities and abundant food resources, permitting species to share non-limiting resources. With increasing herbivore densities and subsequent increasing scarcity of resources, the relationship between diet quality and body mass in combination with increased niche separation is expected to become more visible.

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Corresponding author

1Corresponding author. Email: iongh@cml.leidenuniv.nl, deiongh@cs.com

References

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Resource partitioning among African savanna herbivores in North Cameroon: the importance of diet composition, food quality and body mass

  • H. H. de Iongh (a1), C. B. de Jong (a2), J. van Goethem (a1), E. Klop (a1), A. M. H. Brunsting (a2), P. E. Loth (a1) and H. H. T. Prins (a2)...

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