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Therya

versión On-line ISSN 2007-3364

Resumen

GUERRERO-CARDENAS, Israel et al. Diet composition and selection of the bighorn sheep ( Ovis canadensis ) in Sierra El Mechudo, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Therya [online]. 2016, vol.7, n.3, pp.423-437. ISSN 2007-3364.  http://dx.doi.org/10.12933/therya-16-394.

Water, food and nutrition are three of the main factors that regulate the distribution and abundance of wildlife species in a given area. In Baja California Sur, Mexico, the bighorn sheep is one of the most appreciated species for its ecological and economic value within the peninsular desert ecosystem; however, many aspects of its biology, ecology and population status remain unknown. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the diet composition of the bighorn sheep, analyzing the seasonal use and availability patterns of the plant species consumed. Using two food selection indices, we tested the hypothesis that the bighorn sheep opportunistically selects plant species from its habitat in the southern zone of Sierra El Mechudo, Baja California Sur, Mexico. The vegetation was characterized by means of 50 linear transects measuring 100 m x 5 m (500 m2). The diet of the bighorn sheep was evaluated through the microhistological analysis of feces. We calculated the percentage of in-vitro dry-matter digestibility and the digestible energy of forage consumed by sheep. The similarity of seasonal vs. annual diet was determined through a cluster analysis. From two food selection indices (Ivlev's electivity, Bonferroni), we estimated the proportion of use of plant species consumed by sheep to determine food preferences. In the habitat, we identified 21 families with 63 species in 2010 and 22 families with 50 species in 2011. Shrubs were the dominant forms. The analyses of faeces identified 47 species, consisting of 27 shrubs (62.1 %), 12 forbs (26.9 %), six trees (10.6 %), one succulent (0.2 %) and one unidentified species (0.1 %). The cluster analysis showed seven similar groups. Ivlev's and Bonferroni indices showed the selection of Bourrieria sonorae, Melochia tomentosa and Caesalpinia placida by bighorn sheep in 2010; in 2011, it selected Bursera epinnata, Caesalpinia placida and Larrea tridentata. Non-significant differences between seasons were observed regarding the composition of plant species in the diet. Shrubs were the dominant life forms, followed by trees and succulents. Shrubs were the preferred food foraged by sheep, accounting for 62.1 % of the diet; this finding is consistent with values reported for Arizona and California. Non-significant differences were observed in the percent in-vitro dry matter digestibility and digestible energy of the plant species foraged by sheep. However, we found that sheep grazed preferentially on four plant species, three shrubs and one tree, of high food quality. In this study, the bighorn sheep behaved like a specialist; therefore, we rejected the hypothesis that this species forages opportunistically on plant species. Studies on the diet of the bighorn sheep are valuable to develop management plans for the species and its habitat, since these provide information to better understand the extent of vegetation use and whether distribution sites are suitable and meet with the requirements for the conservation of the species and its populations.

Palabras llave : Digestible energy; diversity; opportunistic; selection index; use-availability.

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