Guanacos (Lama guanicoe) are the largest native Artiodactyl in South America and the most widely distributed. In arid Patagonia, densities are low and negatively related to domestic sheep numbers in space and time consistent with interspecific competition theory. Although guanacos and domestic sheep have been described as intermediate feeders sharing food resources, no studies have been conducted to compare their diets in sympatric conditions and explore whether the potential exists for direct interspecific competition. We assessed the diet of both species across 9 different sites and 2 seasons by microhistological analysis of fecal samples. We found that (1) guanacos and sheep are generalist herbivores feeding on a wide range of plant species; (2) both are intermediate feeders able to include both monocotyledoneous and dicotyledoneous plants in their diet; (3) both are able to change their diets seasonally; and (4) food niche overlap is high, particularly in summer when food resources are more scarce than in spring. We conclude that the potential for competition between guanacos and sheep is high and could have played a major role in the demise of guanacos. Consequently, current management practices focused on maximizing sheep numbers are not compatible with the recovery of guanaco populations.
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Vol. 68 • No. 4