ARCUS Student Award | 4th Annual Award

4th Annual ARCUS Award for Arctic Research Excellence

Submitted by: Carita M. Bergman
Authors: Carita M. Bergman, John M. Fryxell, C. Cormack Gates, and Daniel Fortin
Category: Life Science
Title: Foraging strategies of subarctic wood bison: energy maximizing or time minimizing?
Affiliation: Department of Zoology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Many classical models of ungulate foraging are premised on energy maximization, yet limited empirical evidence and untested currency assumptions make the choice of currency a nontrivial issue. The primary constraints on forage intake of ungulates are forage quality and availability. Using a model that incorporates these dual constraints, we predicted the optimal biomass of forage patches for subarctic ungulate grazers using an energy maximizing versus a time minimizing strategy. We tested these predictions on wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) grazing naturally occurring sedge (Carex atherodes). The digestive constraint was determined by a series of ad libitum feeding trials using sedge at different stages of growth. Sedge digestibility declined with biomass. Ad libitum intake of sedge by bison declined with sedge digestibility and thus decreased with sedge biomass. On the other hand, short-term sedge intake rates of wood bison increased with biomass. Incorporation of these constraints resulted in the prediction that daily energy gain of bison should be maximized by grazing patches with a biomass of 10 g/m2, whereas a satisficing bison could minimize daily foraging time needed to fulfill its energy requirement by cropping patches with a biomass of 279 g/m2. To test these predictions, we used a staggered mowing regime to convert even-aged stands of sedge to a mosaic of patches varying in quality and quantity. Observations of bison grazing these mosaics indicated that patches of biomass below 120 g/m2 were avoided, while the patches of biomass 156 and 219 g/m2 were highly preferred, with the greatest preference for the latter. These results indicate that bison were behaving as time minimizers rather than energy maximizers. Daily cropping times of free-ranging bison from the literature corroborate our results.

Key Words: Bison bison, constraint, foraging, grazing, intake, ruminant, sedge, ungulate