Non-grazing vegetation alterations: do the preferences of horses, wisents and cattle make for a trinity of ecosystem managers?
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Large herbivores are known to prevent the domination of woody species and increase biodiversity through grazing, but also through non-grazing vegetation alterations such as wallowing and rubbing. The latter two create barren patches, which provide a habitat for plants and arthropods. This study focusses on the different wallowing and rubbing preferences of Konik horses (Equus ferus caballus), Rode Geus cattle (Bos primigenius taurus) and wisents (Bison bonasus). These species have been introduced together for their complementary diets in a Dutch nature area called the Slikken van de Heen. A field study was conducted in this area, in which wallowing and rubbing patches were recorded. The amount of wallowing patches found was too low for statistical analysis. This was most likely due to the field work being performed during the season in which generally less wallowing occurs. Upon analysing the data found for rubbing patches, it was found that Konik horses prefer to rub in grassy vegetation and patches with a high degree of vegetation cover. Furthermore, they were found to avoid rubbing in tree vegetation and rubbing against roots. Whereas wisents were found to prefer rubbing in tree vegetation and rubbing against roots. Also, they avoided rubbing in grass vegetation and rubbing patches with a high degree of vegetation cover. For Rode Geus cattle no significant associations were found due to the low number of rubbing patches used by cattle found. The results of this study show that the rubbing habits of Konik horses and wisents are complementary to each other. It is suggested to consider introducing Konik horses, wisents and Rode Geus cattle together in ecosystem management for their complementary non-grazing and grazing vegetation alterations.