Response to resources and parasites depends on health status in extensively grazed sheep

Caroline Liddell, Eric R. Morgan, Katie Bull, Christos C Ioannou

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Abstract

A fundamental question in animal ecology is how an individual’s internal state and the external environment together shape species distributions across habitats. The increasing availability of biologgers is driving a revolution in answering this question in a wide range of species. In this study, the position of sheep (Ovis aries) from GPS collars was integrated with remote sensing data, field sampling of parasite distributions, and parasite load and health measures for each tagged individual. This allowed inter-individual variation in habitat use to be examined. Once controlling for a positive relationship between vegetation productivity and tick abundance, healthier individuals spent more of their time at sites with higher vegetation productivity, while less healthy individuals showed a stronger (negative) response to tick abundance. These trends are likely to represent a trade-off in foraging decisions that vary between individuals based on their health status. Given the rarity of studies that explore how animal distributions are affected by health and external factors, we demonstrate the value of integrating biologging technology with remote sensing data, traditional ecological sampling, and individual measures of animal health. Our study, using extensively grazed sheep as a model system, opens new possibilities to study free-living grazing systems.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2020

Keywords

  • animal distributions
  • habitat use
  • biologging
  • ticks
  • trade-off
  • NDVI

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