Habitat use of feral Highland cattle and Konik horses on Landtong Rozenburg, the Netherlands
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On Landtong Rozenburg (ca 60 ha), a coastal dune area in the Netherlands, a herd of Highland cattle and two herds of feral Konik horses are used as a nature management tool. The use of large herbivores in nature management is common-use in maintaining or restoring the biodiversity of heathlands, grasslands, wetlands and coastal dunes. However the ecological process of grazing is a complex one and the outcome changes for each area. Since 2009 studies are performed on the behavior and habitat use of the cattle and koniks on Landtong Rozenburg. This study is an expansion of the previous studies. The time budget as well as different aspects of the foraging behavior of the cattle and koniks is analyzed. Behavioral data of the different herds were collected through instantaneous sampling in the field during to seven-week observation periods; July-August and November-December. During daylight (between 9:00 and 16:00h) both cattle and koniks spent most of their time foraging (33% and 50% respectively). In the summer period foraging time was significantly lower than in winter. Grassland was overall the preferred habitat type for foraging, though there is a difference of food intake between the cattle and konik. Cattle on average spent 71% of their time foraging on grasses, while koniks spent 96% of their time foraging on grasses. To investigate the habitat use of the cattle and konik herds differs between seasons the date from this study (the only one including the summer period) was aggregated with data from the previous studies. There is a clear difference between seasons on the habitat use of the cattle and konik. Foraging time significantly is significantly lower in summer for all herds. Also there is a shift in preferred foraging habitat during autumn when the cattle spent less time foraging in grasslands and more in scrubs and forest. The resulting information from the analysis of the habitat use and foraging in different seasons can be used to say something about the influence of the Highland cattle and Konik horses on Landtong Rozenburg on the vegetation structure. As the Highland cattle focus their foraging in the grasslands they help to maintain grassland. The cattle forage throughout the entire area on grass, but more importantly also on scrubs which will result in an open vegetation structure. Together the koniks and cattle help maintain an open, diverse vegetation structure on Landtong Rozenburg.