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Niche Separation of Grazing Ungulates in the Serengeti: An Experimental Test

Martyn G. Murray and David Brown
Journal of Animal Ecology
Vol. 62, No. 2 (Apr., 1993), pp. 380-389
DOI: 10.2307/5369
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/5369
Page Count: 10
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Niche Separation of Grazing Ungulates in the Serengeti: An Experimental Test
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Abstract

1. The niche separation of three species of alcelaphine antelope (wildebeest, topi and hartebeest) with similar body size was compared by measuring bite weight, bite rate, intake rate and selectivity of tame animals in plots containing grass at different growth stages. 2. On growing swards, hartebeest had a smaller bite weight and lower intake rate, and were also less selective of green leaf, than either topi or wildebeest. On senescent swards, hartebeest were more selective of leaf than the other two species. 3. Wildebeest had a faster bite rate than either topi or hartebeest on swards with low biomass and high protein content of green leaf (green flush). Bite weight and intake rate of wildebeest and topi were similar despite the difference in breadth of their incisor rows. 4. Topi were significantly more selective of green leaf than the other two species and were the only species to maintain a rapid bite rate on swards with high green leaf biomass. 5. The feeding experiments did not reveal significant cross-overs between species in the rate of food intake on different grass types, but each species was most proficient either in leaf selection or bite rate when feeding on grass swards in a particular growth stage. We suggest that growth stage is a primary determinant of niche separation. 6. In Serengeti, grazing ungulates which migrate are specialists of the earlier growth stages of grass which tend to be transient, while those that are residential specialize on late growth stages which are more enduring. The mobility of species, and the spatial and temporal dynamics of pastures containing different growth stages of grass, contribute to niche separation.

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