Diet overlap by DNA metabarcoding of mule deer, elk, and cattle in ponderosa pine forest of eastern Oregon Public

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/honors_college_theses/8c97ks360

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  • Millions of acres of rangeland in the western U.S. is shared habitat by elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), and cattle (Bos taurus). Potential competition between these ungulates for the same forage species can be understood from their diet composition. I used DNA metabarcoding methods with trnL primers to identify plant DNA fragments from scat samples of mule deer, cattle, and elk that were collected in mid-summer from two pastures in a ponderosa pine forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. Diet composition was examined for each ungulate species and between pastures using plant functional groups, families, and individual sequence reads with frequency of occurrence (FOO) and relative read abundance (RRA) metrics. Forbs were found to be major components in all ungulate diets, although more predominate in deer (RRA: 61%) and elk (51%) compared to cattle (37%). Cattle consumed the most graminoids (RRA: 49%), followed by elk (18%) and then mule deer (4%). Mule deer and elk overlap was the highest (80%), followed by elk and cattle (63%), and then mule deer and cattle (51%). Dietary niche overlap was found to be lower for all ungulate interactions in the pasture with higher productivity and vegetation cover. The importance of forbs to all ungulates suggests that they should be monitored and accounted for in rangeland stocking rates. Key Words: DNA metabarcoding, mule deer, elk, cattle, diet composition, diet overlap, ecology
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