Do endogenous seasonal cycles of food intake influence foraging behaviour and intake by grazing sheep?

Iason, G.R., Sim, D.A., and Gordon, I.J. (2000) Do endogenous seasonal cycles of food intake influence foraging behaviour and intake by grazing sheep? Functional Ecology, 14 (5). pp. 614-622.

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Abstract

1. Large herbivores living in temperate regions show different degrees of seasonal biological variation, including voluntary food intake (VFI). The decline of VFI in winter has been hypothesized to be an evolved response to lower food availability or quality, which can act as an internal constraint on food intake.

2. The hypotheses were tested that (i) animals that have a greater inherent seasonal variation of VFI, measured indoors under ad libitum conditions, would also have a greater seasonal variation in intake and grazing behaviour under field conditions, and (ii) greater seasonal variation in intake and grazing behaviour under field conditions would be expressed at a higher level of food availability.

3. The intake and grazing behaviour in summer and winter, of three breeds of sheep, were compared at two levels of food availability (at pasture heights of 3.7 and 5.4 cm). The breeds were known to have contrasting degrees of seasonal variation in food intake when fed ad libitum; the VFI of the Shetland (SH) and Scottish Blackface (BF) sheep varies greatly between seasons whereas that of the Dorset Horn (DH) is less seasonally variable.

4. All three breeds consistently increased their rates of biting and duration of grazing activity in the winter, taking many more smaller bites each day than in the summer, and both digestibility and intake were lower in winter than in summer.

5. Contrary to expectation, the DH ewes had the highest seasonal difference of dry matter intake at pasture, whereas the SH breed had the lowest variation of intake between seasons.

6. This experiment provides no evidence that differences between seasons in intake and foraging behaviour in the field vary with the animals' degree of endogenous seasonal variation in VFI. Variation between seasons was consistent at both levels of resource availability, suggesting that it resulted from seasonal changes in food quality (digestibility) rather than biomass availability. It is not easy to extrapolate from laboratory feeding studies, where animals' own physiological constraints apply, to foraging ecology in the field, where constraints imposed by the environment may be more important.

Item ID: 42594
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2435
Keywords: food intake, foraging, resource availability, seasonality, sheep
Funders: 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 @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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