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Ecology. 2006 Jun;87(6):1532-41.

Resource partitioning among savanna grazers mediated by local heterogeneity: an experimental approach.

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  • 1Community and Conservation Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Haren, The Netherlands. jcromsigt@hotmail.com

Abstract

Recent theoretical studies predict that body size-related interspecific differences in spatial scale of perception and resource use may contribute to coexistence of species that compete for the same class of resources. These studies provide a new theoretical framework for explaining resource partitioning patterns among African ungulates that coexist in spatially heterogeneous savanna grasslands. According to these studies, different-sized ungulates can coexist because larger species forage at a coarser scale but can tolerate lower quality food, whereas smaller species need higher quality food but forage at a finer scale. To test this hypothesis in an African savanna, we created an experimental mosaic with variation in grain (spatial detail) and quality of short-grass patches and directly observed the visitation of naturally occurring grazers to this mosaic over a two-year period (total of 903 observation hours). Of the seven species that visited our experiment, warthog, impala, zebra, and white rhino visited long enough to allow data analysis. We showed that warthog and impala avoided plots with a finer grain of short grass and that warthog preferred fertilized plots to unfertilized plots. Zebra and white rhino did not avoid the finer grain plots. Our results suggest that differences in grain and quality of a resource might indeed contribute to partitioning of this resource by savanna ungulates. Although four focal species is unusually high for an experimental study on resource partitioning among naturally occurring savanna ungulates, this number is too low to evaluate the allometric basis of our hypothesis. Our results, however, encourage wider experimental testing of the role of spatial heterogeneity in facilitating the coexistence of potentially competing savanna herbivores.

PMID:
16869429
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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