Allometry and spatial scales of foraging in mammalian herbivores


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Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 311–320


Herbivores forage in spatially complex habitats. Due to allometry and scale-dependent foraging, herbivores are hypothesized to perceive and respond to heterogeneity of resources at scales relative to their body sizes. This hypothesis has not been manipulatively tested for animals with only moderate differences in body size and similar food niches. We compared short-term spatial foraging behavior of two herbivores (sheep and cattle) with similar dietary niche but differing body size. Although intake rates scaled allometrically with body mass (mass0.75), spatial foraging strategies substantially differed, with cattle exhibiting a coarser-grained use of the ‘foodscape.’ Selectivity by cattle (and not sheep) for their preferred food was more restricted when patches were smaller (< 10 m2). We conclude that differences in spatial scales of selection offers a plausible mechanism by which species can coexist on shared resources that exhibit multiple scales of spatial heterogeneity.