Evaluation of wild animals browsing preferences in forage resources
AbstractExcessive presence of wild ungulates can produce negative effects on herbaceous crops or woody species, and to face this problem, habitat improvements are often performed to recreate suitable environments for a given animal species and to attract animals far from cultivated crops. A common example of these interventions is represented by grassland restoration and to evaluate the real animal preferences on restored forage resources a proper trial was established in a hilly area of Tuscany (central Italy), inside the historical Park of Pratolino, near Florence. The trial compared six different forage species or mixtures sown in plots: vegetal material was represented by two pure stands (Onobrychis viciifolia and Medicago sativa) and four mixtures differing in number and kind of used species. Plots were utilised only by wild animals occurring in the area. Data collection consisted of botanical samples in each plot in different periods to obtain the percent presence of each species. At the same time, a visual estimation of animal intake on all occurring species was performed to obtain the browsing ratio of single species and overall defoliation rate for each species/mixture. Moreover, six camera traps were placed on the boundary of the experimental site to record videos of wild animals browsing in the area for identification of animals actually occurring on different plots and for comparison of these results with botanical data. Vegetation surveys permitted a proper evaluation of animals intake and of their feeding preferences. In general, sown species performed a major role in animal browsing, even if in some periods also a few native species (such as Plantago lanceolata or Cichorium intybus) were utilised in a strong way, depending on vegetation context and existing biomass. Camera traps results permitted the identification of browsing animal species (mainly represented by roe deer) and plots frequentation resulted to be highly related to animal intake found by botanical relevÃ©s.
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