Foraging behavior of heritage versus recently introduced herbivores on desert landscapes of the American Southwest

TitleForaging behavior of heritage versus recently introduced herbivores on desert landscapes of the American Southwest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsH. Peinetti R, Fredrickson E.L., Peters DC, Cibils AF, Roacho-Estrada J.O., Laliberte AS
Start PageArticle 57
Date Published05/2011
Accession NumberJRN00564
ARIS Log Number232625
KeywordsChihuahuan Desert, criollo cattle, GPS monitoring, herbivory, landscape foraging patterns, resource selection functions
Abstract Since the 1800s managed grasslands and shrublands of the arid American Southwest have been grazed predominantly by cattle originally bred for temperate climates in northern Europe. A heritage breed, the criollo cattle, has survived in northern Mexico for more than 400 years under desert-like conditions of low and variable rainfall, hot temperatures in the growing season, and both spatially and temporally scarce levels of primary production. We tested the hypothesis that the heritage breed has a broader spatial foraging distribution under harsh environmental conditions, and that its distribution is driven by environmental variables which differ from those that control the distribution of the introduced European breed. Movements of individual criollo and Angus breed animals were monitored autonomously in the northern Chihuahuan desert of southern New Mexico, USA. Georeferenced foraging locations acquired at 5-minute intervals for each animal were fit to a logistic regression using environmental factors as predictors. In the spring, when forage availability was high and more uniformly distributed across the landscape, animal foraging patterns were similar for both breeds. In the fall when forage availability was low and non-uniformly distributed, the two breeds exhibited very different foraging patterns: heritage animals foraged across a much larger spatial extent whereas their domestic counterparts remained in close proximity to the permanent source of water. These differences in foraging behavior driven by environmental variables have important implications for sustainability of rangelands in spatially and temporally variable environments. Heritage breeds of animals that are generalist foragers during unfavorable conditions can reduce environmental impacts compared to more recently introduced breeds.