A test of the herbivore optimization hypothesis using muskoxen and a graminoid meadow plant community

  • David L. Smith
Keywords: grazing, arctic, biomass, plant community, roots, optimization hypothesis, muskoxen

Abstract

A prediction from the herbivore optimization hypothesis is that grazing by herbivores at moderate intensities will increase net above-ground primary productivity more than at lower or higher intensities. I tested this hypothesis in an area of high muskox {Ovibos moschatus) density on north-central Banks Island, Northwest Territories, Canada (73°50'N, 119°53'W). Plots (1 m2) in graminoid meadows dominated by cottongrass (Eriophorum triste) were either clipped, exposed to muskoxen, protected for part of one growing season, or permanently protected. This resulted in the removal of 22-44%, 10-39%, 0-39% or 0%, respectively, of shoot tissue during each growing season. Contrary to the predictions of the herbivore optimization hypothesis, productivity did not increase across this range of tissue removal. Productivity of plants clipped at 1.5 cm above ground once or twice per growing season, declined by 60+/-5% in 64% of the tests. The productivity of plants grazed by muskoxen declined by 56+/-7% in 25% of the tests. No significant change in productivity was observed in 36% and 75% of the tests in clipped and grazed treatments, respecrively. Clipping and grazing reduced below-ground standing crop except where removals were small. Grazing and clipping did not stimulate productivity of north-central Banks Island graminoid meadows.
Published
1996-01-01
How to Cite
SmithD. L. (1996). A test of the herbivore optimization hypothesis using muskoxen and a graminoid meadow plant community. Rangifer, 16(2), 69-77. https://doi.org/10.7557/2.16.2.1199
Section
Articles