Varied diets, including broadleaved forage, are important for a large herbivore species inhabiting highly modified landscapes
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionScientific Reports. 2020, 10 1-13. 10.1038/s41598-020-58673-5
Diet quality is an important determinant of animal survival and reproduction, and can be described as the combination of different food items ingested, and their nutritional composition. For large herbivores, human landscape modifications to vegetation can limit such diet-mixing opportunities. Here we use southern Sweden’s modified landscapes to assess winter diet mixtures (as an indicator of quality) and food availability as drivers of body mass (BM) variation in wild moose (Alces alces). We identify plant species found in the rumen of 323 moose harvested in Oct-Feb, and link variation in average calf BM among populations to diets and food availability. Our results show that variation in calf BM correlates with variation in diet composition, diversity, and food availability. A varied diet relatively rich in broadleaves was associated with higher calf BM than a less variable diet dominated by conifers. A diet high in shrubs and sugar/starch rich agricultural crops was associated with intermediate BM. The proportion of young production forest (0–15 yrs) in the landscape, an indicator of food availability, significantly accounted for variation in calf BM. Our findings emphasize the importance of not only diet composition and forage quantity, but also variability in the diets of large free-ranging herbivores.