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Use of delta carbon 13 values to determine vegetation selectivity in east african herbivores


, : Use of delta carbon 13 values to determine vegetation selectivity in east african herbivores. Oecologia (Berlin) 37(3): 351-360

The quantitative plant species composition of the rumen contents of a large number of individuals from 8 East African herbivores was determined by direct visual analysis. All plant species were classified as either C3 or C4, and an estimated .delta. 13C for the rumen sample was calculated. This estimated value was compared to a measured value determined directly from rumen subsamples. The 2 methods of determining quantitative C3 and C4 composition differed by less than 1%, and the isotopic analysis had the advantage of being rapid and totally objective. Grazers and browsers were differentiated and the quantitative dependence of each animal on C3 and C4 photosynthetic types was determined. Kongoni, wildebeest, cattle and sheep were nearly pure grazers on the Athi Kapiti Plains, and the Grant's gazelle were predominantly browsers. Thompson's gazelle, goats and impala were intermediate. The species most dependent upon browse showed a marked and rapid shift to grass within a few days following rain. This isotopic method may have general utility in the study of East African ecology.

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