Extensive browsing by a conventional grazer? Stable carbon isotope analysis reveals extraordinary dietary flexibility among Sanga cattle of North Central Namibia

Frans G.T. Radloff, Cornelis Van der Waal, Alexander L. Bond

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    Intraspecies dietary flexibility, such as variable consumption of graze vs. browse in herbivores, has received scant attention on a spatial scale despite growing evidence of substantial variability within and among populations, especially in bovids. Here, we report on extraordinary differences in cattle diet among two communal pasture areas across seasons in northern Namibia: King Nehale (KN, open grassland) and Okongo (OK, dense woodland). Percentage C3 browse and C4 grass consumption was determined from δ13C values of dung samples, using a Bayesian stable-isotope mixing model (SIAR - stable isotope analysis in R). During the wet and early dry season, KN cattle consumed 11 and 19% browse, respectively, and the OK cattle consumed 84% browse. At the end of the dry season, the browse intake of KN cattle increased to 33% while that of OK cattle decreased to 55%. Vegetation structure influenced the graze/browse consumption strongly in both areas. A better understanding of this extraordinary dietary flexibility is imperative as anthropogenically driven habitat change is projected to lead to the extinction of perceived grazing specialists.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)318-324
    Number of pages7
    JournalIsotopes in Environmental and Health Studies
    Issue number3
    Early online date17 Jul 2013
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2013



    • Bos taurus africanus
    • bovid
    • browser
    • carbon-13
    • diet
    • grazer
    • herbivore
    • isotope ecology
    • isotope measurements and methods

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