Identifying space use at foraging arena scale within the home ranges of large herbivores.

Owen-Smith, N.
Martin, J.
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Public Library of Science
An intermediate spatiotemporal scale of food procurement by large herbivores is evident within annual or seasonal home ranges. It takes the form of settlement periods spanning several days or weeks during which foraging activity is confined to spatially discrete foraging arenas, separated by roaming interludes. Extended by areas occupied for other activities, these foraging arenas contribute towards generating the home range structure. We delineated and compared the foraging arenas exploited by two African large herbivores, sable antelope (a ruminant) and plains zebra (a non-ruminant), using GPS-derived movement data. We developed a novel approach to specifically delineate foraging arenas based on local change points in distance relative to adjoining clusters of locations, and compared its output with modifications of two published methods developed for home range estimation and residence time estimation respectively. We compared how these herbivore species responded to seasonal variation in food resources and how they differed in their spatial patterns of resource utilization. Sable antelope herds tended to concentrate their space use locally, while zebra herds moved more opportunistically over a wider set of foraging arenas. The amalgamated extent of the foraging arenas exploited by sable herds amounted to 12-30 km2, compared with 22-100 km2 for the zebra herds. Half-day displacement distances differed between settlement periods and roaming interludes, and zebra herds generally shifted further over 12h than sable herds. Foraging arenas of sable herds tended to be smaller than those of zebra, and were occupied for period twice as long, and hence exploited more intensively in days spent per unit area than the foraging arenas of zebra. For sable both the intensity of utilization of foraging arenas and proportion of days spent in foraging arenas relative to roaming interludes declined as food resources diminished seasonally, while zebra showed no seasonal variation in these metrics. Identifying patterns of space use at foraging arena scale helps reveal mechanisms generating the home range extent, and in turn the local population density. Thereby it helps forge links between behavioural ecology, movement ecology and population ecology.
animal behavior, antelope, environmental exploitation, female, food availability, foraging behavior, global positioning system, herbivore, herd, home range, nonhuman, population density, seasonal variation, zebra, Equus burchellii, Equus subg. Hippotigris, Hippotragus
Owen-Smith, N. and Martin, J. 2015. Identifying space use at foraging arena scale within the home ranges of large herbivores. PloS ONE 10(6).