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1 March 2007 Learning Through Foraging Consequences: A Mechanism of Feeding Niche Separation in Sympatric Ruminants
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Explanations for why sympatric ruminant species select diets composed of different plant species or plant parts have been controversial. Our explanation is based on learning from foraging consequences, which includes the influences that morphology, physiology, and experience have on diet selection. We conducted a trial with cattle (Bos taurus), sheep (Ovis aries), and goats (Capra hircus) and leafy spurge (LS; Euphorbia esula L.) to explore the interface between the learning and morphophysiological foraging models with these sympatric ruminants. After a pretrial adjustment period, the control group for each species received, via stomach tube on days 1 and 2, ground grass after eating a novel food (NF; rolled corn), and the treatment group for each species received ground air-dried LS after eating the NF. NF intake on days 2 and 3 was expressed as a percent of NF intake on day 1, and it declined considerably for cattle and sheep dosed with LS but did not decline for goats receiving it (P = 0.001). LS elicited learned aversive feeding responses from cattle and sheep but not from goats. The results are consistent with field observations that goats graze LS more readily than sheep or cattle do. Learning from foraging consequences offers an explanation for the unique diets of sympatric ruminant species.

Scott L. Kronberg and John W. Walker "Learning Through Foraging Consequences: A Mechanism of Feeding Niche Separation in Sympatric Ruminants," Rangeland Ecology and Management 60(2), 195-198, (1 March 2007).
Received: 13 December 2005; Accepted: 1 January 2007; Published: 1 March 2007

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