Seasonal diet composition of Pyrenean chamois is mainly shaped by primary production waves

Espunyes J., Bartolomé J., Garel M., Gálvez-Cerón A., Aguilar X.F., Colom-Cadena A., Calleja J.A., Gassó D., Jarque L., Lavín S., Marco I., Serrano E. (2019) Seasonal diet composition of Pyrenean chamois is mainly shaped by primary production waves. PLoS ONE. 14: 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210819

Resum:

In alpine habitats, the seasonally marked climatic conditions generate seasonal and spatial differences in forage availability for herbivores. Vegetation availability and quality during the growing season are known to drive life history traits of mountain ungulates. However, little effort has been made to understand the association between plant phenology and changes in the foraging strategies of these mountain dwellers. Furthermore, this link can be affected by the seasonal presence of livestock in the same meadows. The objective of this work was to study the seasonal changes in diet composition of Pyrenean chamois (Rupicapra p. pyrenaica) and its relationship to primary production trends in a Mediterranean alpine environment. Moreover, diet composition in two populations with contrasting livestock pressure was compared in order to study the effect of sheep flocks on the feeding behaviour of chamois. From 2009 to 2012, monthly diet composition was estimated by cuticle microhistological analysis of chamois faeces collected in the eastern Pyrenees. The primary production cycle was assessed by remote sensing, using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. Additionally, the diet of sheep sharing seasonally the subalpine and alpine meadows with chamois was analysed. Diet selection of chamois and sheep and their overlap was also assessed. Our results show an intra-annual variation in the diet composition of Pyrenean chamois and demonstrate a strong relationship between plant consumption dynamics and phenology in alpine areas. In addition, Calluna vulgaris, Cytisus spp. and Festuca spp., as well as forbs in the summer, are found to be key forage species for Pyrenean chamois. Furthermore, this study couldn’t detect differences between both chamois populations despite the presence of sheep flocks in only one area. However, the detection of a shift in the diet of chamois in both areas after the arrival of high densities of multi-specific livestock suggest a general livestock effect. In conclusion, Pyrenean chamois are well adapted to the variations in the seasonal availability of plants in alpine habitats but could be disturbed by the seasonal presence of livestock. Due to the key plants in their diet, we suggest that population management programmes should focus on the preservation of mixed grasslands composed of patches of shrubs and herbs. The effects of climate change and shrub expansion should be studied as they may potentially affect chamois population dynamics through changes in habitat composition and temporal shifts in forage availability. © 2019 Espunyes et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Different effects of alpine woody plant expansion on domestic and wild ungulates

Espunyes J., Lurgi M., Büntgen U., Bartolomé J., Calleja J.A., Gálvez-Cerón A., Peñuelas J., Claramunt-López B., Serrano E. (2019) Different effects of alpine woody plant expansion on domestic and wild ungulates. Global Change Biology. 25: 1808-1819.
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Doi: 10.1111/gcb.14587

Resum:

Changes in land-use and climate affect the distribution and diversity of plant and animal species at different spatiotemporal scales. The extent to which species-specific phenotypic plasticity and biotic interactions mediate organismal adaptation to changing environments, however, remains poorly understood. Woody plant expansion is threatening the extent of alpine grasslands worldwide, and evaluating and predicting its effects on herbivores is of crucial importance. Here, we explore the impact of shrubification on the feeding efficiency of Pyrenean chamois (Rupicapra p. pyrenaica), as well as on the three most abundant coexisting domestic ungulate species: cattle, sheep and horses. We use observational diet composition from May to October and model different scenarios of vegetation availability where shrubland and woodland proliferate at the expense of grassland. We then predicted if the four ungulate species could efficiently utilize their food landscapes with their current dietary specificities measuring their niche breath in each scenario. We observed that the wild counterpart, due to a higher trophic plasticity, is less disturbed by shrubification compared to livestock, which rely primarily on herbaceous plants and will be affected 3.6 times more. Our results suggest that mixed feeders, such as chamois, could benefit from fallow landscapes, and that mountain farmers are at a growing economic risk worldwide due to changing land-use practices and climate conditions. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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Effects of boom and bust grazing management on vegetation and health of beef cattle used for wildfire prevention in a Mediterranean forest

Teruel-Coll M., Pareja J., Bartolomé J., Serrano E., Mentaberre G., Cuenca R., Espunyes J., Pauné F., Calleja J.A. (2019) Effects of boom and bust grazing management on vegetation and health of beef cattle used for wildfire prevention in a Mediterranean forest. Science of the Total Environment. 665: 18-22.
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Doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.02.037

Resum:

Humans and wildfires have historically driven landscape structure in the Mediterranean basin. The Iberian Peninsula is not an exception to that rule, and therefore, farmers, researchers, and governments seek alternative tools to minimize the loss of biodiversity and wildfire risks. Extensive livestock including beef cattle is currently promoted as a suitable management tool by European agro-environmental policies yet pieces of evidence exist regarding the reciprocal effects between cows and Mediterranean woody vegetation. In this work, we performed a field manipulation to evaluate whether free-ranging beef cattle without supplementary feeding, at high density (2 livestock units (LU)/ha) for a short period of time i.e. “boom and bust grazing” management, are able to adapt their grazing preferences to the Mediterranean woody vegetation without health impairment, and prevent from bush encroachment and wildfires. For our purposes, a native herd of 14 adult cows was kept captive without supplementary feeding in a 14 ha enclosure covered by Mediterranean vegetation for two months (April–June 2016). Plant and cattle fecal and blood samples were collected to assess diet composition (plant cuticle microhistological analysis), fecal nitrogen and protein contents of consumed plants, and the nutritional status (non-esterified fatty acids) of cattle. Our results showed that cattle adapted their feeding habits toward a more woody diet including potentially flammable taxa but with some detrimental effects on health status. Hence, cattle cannot control woody vegetation for long periods of time without supplementary feeding. Further research should be oriented to explore other alternative approaches to minimize the health impairment of cattle used for control flammable vegetation in Mediterranean regions. © 2019

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