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Foraging behaviour of donkeys grazing in a coastal dune area in temperate climate conditions

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Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume92
Issue number1-2
Pages (from-to)93-112
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Abstract

A small herd of donkeys was introduced in a coastal dune reserve ‘Houtsaegerduinen’ (ca. 80 ha) in Belgium, in order to slow down expansion of dominant grass and shrub species. The Houtsaegerduinen is a nutrient poor scrub-dominated dune system with a spatially heterogeneous vegetation pattern. Different aspects of the grazing behaviour (grazing time, bite rate, habitat use, diet composition) of the free-ranging donkeys are described and analysed. Behavioural data (of maximum six adult mares) were collected through continuous focal animal observation in three consecutive years (1998–2001). Temporal variation in grazing time, habitat use and diet composition was determined.

During daylight, donkeys spent most of their time on grazing (56%). In all 3 years, grazing time was significantly shorter in summer (45% of their time), longest grazing times were achieved in spring (64%). In spring, the donkeys also achieved the highest bite rate (21.5 bites/min). The grassy habitat was preferred for foraging in all seasons, while the use of scrub and woodland was variable over time. Averaged over the four seasons, the general diet consisted for 80% of graminoids, 10% of forbs and 10% of woody plants. However, diet composition varied not only among seasons and years, but depended also on the foraged habitat type. We discuss the possible role of the donkeys in nature management.

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