Grazing decisions of Soay sheep, Ovis aries, on St Kilda: a consequence of parasite distribution?

Hutchings, Michael R., Milner, Jos M., Gordon, Iain J., Kyriazakis, Ilias, and Jackson, Frank (2002) Grazing decisions of Soay sheep, Ovis aries, on St Kilda: a consequence of parasite distribution? Oikos, 96 (2). pp. 235-244.

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Abstract

Relationship between the height of grass swards and herbage intake have been established for a number of large herbivores and sward height plays a major role in determining the selection of herbivore diets. However. tall grass standards also represent a more stable damp microclimate for gastrointestinal parasite larvae and tall swards contain generally greater numbers of parasites than short swards, Herbivores may then trade-off the need to maximise nutrient intake through the selection of tail swards with the need to avoid parasite ingestion. Stratified standard sampling techniques were used to determine the distribution of nutrients and parasites in a heterogeneous sward structure on the island of Hirta. St Kilda, which is grazed by a population of feral Soay sheep, The disparity bet between the short gap vegetation and the tall tussock vegetation was greatest in spring. when gap vegetation was some three-fold shorter than tussock vegetation; this led to tussocks offering greater nutrient and energy intake rate When compared to gap vegetation in spring. Parasites were concentrated in tussocks in spring. thus creating trade-offs. Such trade-offs were not present in summer Mien parasites were more evenly distributed across the gap tussock sward structure and the nutritional advantages associated with grazing tussocks were diminished. The diet selection of the resident Population of sheep was determined by recording the number of bites taken from gap and tussock vegetation by randomly selected focal animals over repeated 5-min grazing periods. Overall. all animals avoided grazing tussocks. Which were most strongly avoided in the spring. and older animals avoided grazing tussocks to a greater extent. Overall. females with lambs and males avoided tussocks to a similar degree and both avoided them less than barren females Faecal egg counts (FEC) of female sheep were negatively correlated with tussock selectivity and Nice versa for male sheep. The interaction between the grazing behaviour of each sex and FEC is discussed in relation to the immunocompetence and nutrient requirements of the different sexes, The maximum disparity between the costs and benefits of the trade-off studied occurred in late winter early spring which also represents the time of greatest nutrient demand in the soak sheep. since many are close to starvation and, or are in the advanced stages of pregnancy. Grazing decisions of individuals at this time. determining relative nutrient and parasite intake. may then be related to subsequent fitness and survival.

Item ID: 42578
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1600-0706
Funders: Natural Environment Research Council (UK) (NERC), Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD)
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2016 07:43
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0608 Zoology > 060806 Animal Physiological Ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960805 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity at Regional or Larger Scales @ 50%
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