Giraffe browsing in response to plant traits
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionMahenya, O. J., Ndjamba, J. K., Mathisen, K. M. & Skarpe, C. (2016). Giraffe browsing in response to plant traits. Acta Oecologica, 75, 54-62. doi: 10.1016/j.actao.2016.07.001
Intake rates by large herbivores are governed by among other things plant traits. We used Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi Matschie) as study animals, testing whether they as very large browsers would follow the Jarman–Bell principle and maximize intake rate while tolerating low forage quality. We worked in Arusha National Park, Tanzania. We investigated how intake rate was determined by bite mass and bite rate, and show that bite mass and bite rate were determined by plant characteristics, governed by inherent plant traits, plant traits acquired from previous years’ browsing, and season. We predicted that; (1) bite mass would be larger in trees without spines than with (2) bite mass would be larger in the wet season than in the dry, (3) bite rate would be higher in spinescent trees than in non-spinescent, (4) bite rate and/or bite mass would increase with previous years’ browsing, (5) bite mass, bite rate or browsing time per tree would be highest for high trees with large, although still available canopies. Visual observations were used to collect data on tree attributes, number of bites taken and time of browsing. Sample size was 132 observed giraffe. We found that bite mass was larger in spineless than in spinescent trees and was larger in the wet season than in the dry. Bite rate, but not bite mass, increased with increasing browsing in previous years and was highest on two to three meter high trees and in spinescent trees. Intake rate followed bite mass more than bite rate and was higher in spineless than in spinescent trees, higher in the wet season than in the dry, and tended to increase with tree height. Giraffe did not prioritize the highest intake rate, but browsed much on Acacias giving a high quality diet but a low intake rate.