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. © CSIRO 2012.
Miranda, M., Sicilia, M., Bartolomé, J., Molina-Alcaide, E., Gálvez-Bravo, L., & Cassinello, J. (2012). Contrasting feeding patterns of native red deer and two exotic ungulates in a Mediterranean ecosystem. Wildlife Research, 39, 171-182. https://doi.org/10.1071/WR11146