The University of Arizona

Foraging Behavior of Alberes Cattle in a Mediterranean Forest Ecosystem

Jordi Bartolome, Josefina Plaixats, Jesus Piedrafita


The dietary composition of the semiferal cattle population in the Alberes Natural Park in northeastern Spain was determined four times per year, from June 2002 to February 2004, by microhistological analysis of a total of 120 fecal samples. Woody species, mainly the Quercus and Erica genera, formed the bulk of the diet, reaching 89% of it in winter. However, in spring and summer, the proportion of woody and herbaceous species varied between samples, depending on the habitat where they were collected. The forest samples contained 67% woody species in summer, whereas grassland samples only contained 44%. The results showed that the Alberes cattle population grazed actively in Mediterranean forests and consumed a high proportion of the most combustible species, such as the Erica genus (39% of the epidermal fragments in winter samples). Even when grassland habitat was utilized, in spring and summer, one-third of the diet was from woody species. Some bovines, such as the Alberes cattle breed, can therefore survive year-round in a forest habitat with little forage supplementation, and the consumption of a predominantly woody diet would be expected to reduce forest fire hazards.

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