By selecting certain plants for consumption, ungulates (hoofed mammals) shape ecosystems and influence which plant species are present in their habitats. We investigated the summer diets of non-native feral burros in two ecosystems: a subtropical Sonoran Desert in Arizona and a temperate juniper shrubland in Utah, the United States. In June and July of 2019, we gathered 50 fecal samples from both locations and analyzed plant DNA in the samples to identify which plants the burros were eating. Our findings revealed that during our summer sampling period, the burros in the Sonoran Desert predominantly consumed woody browse, whereas the burros in the juniper woodland consumed a wide range of flowering herbaceous plants (forbs) and grasses. The burros in the temperate system had to consume a more diverse diet to meet their nutritional needs, while the burros in the Sonoran Desert could rely on two major forage species, mesquite and grasses from the Poaceae family; as a result, their diet had a lower degree of diversity. Feral burros are descended from the African wild ass and exhibit a similar mixed feeding strategy to their ancestors in which they can adapt their diet in different ecosystems to meet their nutritional requirements.
|Title||Browsers or Grazers? New insights into feral burro diet using a non-invasive sampling and plant DNA metabarcoding approach|
|Authors||Saeideh Esmaeili, Kathryn A. Schoenecker, Sarah King|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Fort Collins Science Center|