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Facilitation versus competition in grazing herbivore assemblages

Authors

  • Randal Arsenault,

  • Norman Owen-Smith


Centre for African Ecology, School of Animal, Plant & Environm. Sci., Univ. of the Witwatersrand, Wits 2050, South Africa (randal@gecko.biol.wits.ac.za).

Abstract

The importance of facilitation versus competition in structuring herbivore species assemblages is a critical issue in theoretical ecology as well as for practical wildlife management. This paper examines the evidence for facilitation and clarifies our understanding in relation to the mechanisms and the spatial and temporal scales where they occur. Evidence for facilitation through stimulation of grass regrowth during the growing season appears stronger than that for increased resource access through removal of obstructing grass structures during the dormant season. Although facilitation may benefit the nutritional gains obtained by certain species in the short term, these benefits do not appear to be translated into the expected population consequences. We suggest this could be due to seasonal tradeoffs between facilitation and competition, as well as to restrictions on the spatial extent of trophic overlap.

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