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Busted by the bite

molecular evidence of cryptic foraging behaviors in large herbivores

Nichols, Ruth V. (2013). Busted by the bite. Diss. (sammanfattning/summary) Umeå : Sveriges lantbruksuniv., Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae, 1652-6880 ; 2013:86
ISBN 978-91-576-7910-9
eISBN 978-91-576-7911-6
[Doctoral thesis]

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Large herbivores are charismatic species known to engineer ecosystems through a variety of effects. Conflicts can sometimes arise when these effects are undesirable. However, without detailed knowledge on herbivore selectivity for landscapes, patches and plants, these positive and negative effects remain difficult to predict. Such species and sex-specific selectivity have inherent evolutionary and ecological mechanisms. In order to study such mechanisms it is important to study the partitioning of resources at multiple scales. Most studies have looked at large-scale resource partitioning (such as movement patterns) but fewer study the fine-scale levels of selectivity such as the individual bites taken by herbivores. This level of detail is, however, important because it is essentially the direct mechanism through which ecosystem effects are manifested.

Specifically for the browsing herbivore guild, such fine-scale studies have largely been impractical due to forested habitats which limit direct observation of behaviors. DNA-based diagnostics are becoming more and more popular within ecology as they provide vital data to answer certain questions. In this thesis I developed two versions of a method to differentiate between five species of large herbivore browsers using trace amounts of environmental DNA left at browsed twigs. The first version uses a traditional amplification method for identifying the species of browsers and the second uses an advanced and more sensitive method for identifying the species and sex of browsers.

Using environmental DNA, I determined species-specific browsing patterns across three studies. I found overall that traditional methods for attributing browsing at the species level tend to be misleading. In one study I show that although one species may be blamed for forest plantation damages, DNA evidence showed a partitioning between three herbivore species. I also document the partitioning of plant parts among different sized ungulates and show that overlap in browsing heights and bite diameters is much larger than previously assumed. In another study I experimentally verified the selectivities of free-ranging herbivores for three species of trees. This thesis thus not only develops new molecular ecological tools but also provides new insights into resource partitioning and hence the ecosystem effects of herbivores.

Authors/Creators:Nichols, Ruth V.
Title:Busted by the bite
Subtitle:molecular evidence of cryptic foraging behaviors in large herbivores
Series Name/Journal:Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
Year of publishing :24 October 2013
Number of Pages:35
I.Nichols RV, Königsson H, Danell K, Spong G (2012). Browsed twig environmental DNA: diagnostic PCR to identify ungulate species. Molecular Ecology Resources 12(6), 983-989.
II.Nichols RV, Spong G. An eDNA-based SNP assay for ungulate species and sex identification (manuscript).
III.Nichols RV, Spong G. Ungulate browsing on conifers during summer (manuscript).
IV.Nichols RV, Cromsigt JPGM, Spong G. Tree species selection by temperate ungulates (manuscript).
V.Nichols RV, Cromsigt JPGM, Spong G. Nested browsing heights and bite diameters in a temperate ungulate assemblage (manuscript).
Place of Publication:Umeå
Publisher:Dept. of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
ISBN for printed version:978-91-576-7910-9
ISBN for electronic version:978-91-576-7911-6
Publication Type:Doctoral thesis
Full Text Status:Public
Agris subject categories.:L Animal production > L02 Animal feeding
L Animal production > L20 Animal ecology
Subjects:(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 1 Natural sciences > 106 Biological Sciences (Medical to be 3 and Agricultural to be 4) > Zoology
(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 1 Natural sciences > 106 Biological Sciences (Medical to be 3 and Agricultural to be 4) > Genetics (medical genetics to be 30107 and agricultural genetics to be 40402)
(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 1 Natural sciences > 106 Biological Sciences (Medical to be 3 and Agricultural to be 4) > Ecology
Agrovoc terms:elks, reindeer, cervus elaphus, fallow deer, roe deer, browsing, feeding preferences, habitats, sex, dna, sweden
Keywords:Browsing, Competition, Ungulates, eDNA, environmental DNA
Permanent URL:
ID Code:10863
Department:(S) > Dept. of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
External funders:FORMAS
Deposited By: Ruth V. Nichols
Deposited On:30 Oct 2013 11:31
Metadata Last Modified:14 Dec 2014 06:49

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