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Keywords:

  • diet;
  • forage production;
  • grazing;
  • wildebeest;
  • zebra

Summary

Feeding habits of free-ranging wildebeest and zebra were monitored in a semi-arid nature reserve, bordering the southwestern part of Kruger National Park, South Africa. The purpose of study was to distinguish and define the feeding niches of two roughage grazers that occur in similar habitat types. The monthly compositions of diets were evaluated by direct observations of feeding bouts over a period of two years when rainfall patterns were average and animal populations were stable. Other analyses evaluated the standing biomass of grass species in the reserve during the wet summer and dry winter seasons.

A considerable overlap of grass species composition was found in the diets of wildebeest and zebra. Ordination of bi-monthly records of the diet composition showed greater variations in scores of grasses in zebra diet in comparison to wildebeest. Seasonal patterns were more apparent in the wildebeest diet. Preference ranking of grass species indicated that zebra diet remained constant in winter and summer. Wildebeest diet however, alternated with seasons, showing high preferences during the winter months for grass species which were rejected during summer.

The combined assessment of results from three separate statistical methods analysing temporal patterns and preferences in diet composition revealed contradictory trends. The solution, however, relied on the initial assumptions posed. Hence, wildebeest and zebra are essentially generalist feeders which show a limited amount of preference in their choice of diet.