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Density-dependent diet selection and body condition of cattle and horses in heterogeneous landscapes

By P. Cornelissen, J. T. Vulink

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For some decades, grazing by cattle and horses is used as a management tool to achieve different nature management goals. For managers there are still questions to be answered about the effects of herbivore densities on their performance, vegetation development and biodiversity. This study examines the effect of density on diet composition, diet quality and body condition of cattle and horses. We expressed density as the ratio between consumption and net primary production of the preferred grasslands. Over a period of one year, we studied sward height and diet composition, diet quality and body condition of free ranging cattle and horses in two different study areas with different ratios between consumption and production. Our results showed that the amount of preferred high quality grasses in the diet of cattle and horses was lower when herbivore density was higher. As a result diet quality was lower and as a result of that body condition was affected. In October body condition of cows was lower and in March body of cows and mares was lower in the high density area. A striking difference between cattle and horses was that during the growing season and at high densities, the amount of preferred grasses in the diet of cattle decreased whereas that of horses increased. This was most likely caused by sward height which became probably too low for cattle. As cattle prefer grass heights of 9-16 cm, grass heights lower than those make it difficult for cattle to achieve a sufficient instantaneous intake rate. This means that in homogeneous areas and at high herbivore densities, horses can outcompete cattle. In this paper the effects of density dependent diet selection on vegetation development and conservation management are discussed.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 163
Pages 28-38
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.12.008
Language English
Author Address Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, Rijkswaterstaat Water, Infrastructure and the Environment, P.O. Box 17, 8200 AA Lelystad,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Angiosperms
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal ecology
  4. Animal nutrition
  5. Animals
  6. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  7. Biodiversity
  8. Biological resources
  9. Body condition
  10. Bovidae
  11. Cattle
  12. Conservation
  13. Diets
  14. Effect
  15. Flowers
  16. Grasses
  17. Grasslands and rangelands
  18. Grazing
  19. Herbivores
  20. Heterogeneity
  21. Horses
  22. Mammals
  23. Nutrition
  24. peer-reviewed
  25. Plants
  26. ratios
  27. Ruminants
  28. ungulates
  29. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed