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Using carbon isotope analysis of the diet of two introduced Australian megaherbivores to understand Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions


Bowman, DMJS and Murphy, BP and McMahon, CR, Using carbon isotope analysis of the diet of two introduced Australian megaherbivores to understand Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions, Journal of Biogeography, 37, (3) pp. 499-505. ISSN 0305-0270 (2010) [Refereed Article]

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DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2009.02206.x


Aim Australia lost a diverse assemblage of large marsupial herbivores in the late Pleistocene, with suggestions that the extinctions were biased towards browsers. In modern times two bovines, the Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and banteng (Bos javanicus), have established feral populations in the Northern Territory, Australia. Buffalo have aggressively expanded throughout the savanna landscape, yet banteng remain near their point of introduction on the Cobourg Peninsula. We hypothesized that this difference is related to feeding ecology, possibly reflecting a legacy of the Pleistocene extinctions. Location Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. Methods Analysing a previously published dataset of body mass and feeding ecology of extinct and extant marsupial herbivores, we evaluated whether browsers were at greater risk of extinction than grazers. We compared the carbon isotope composition and nitrogen content of banteng and buffalo dung in order to evaluate the hypotheses that the differences in invasion success are related to feeding ecology, and that seasonal variation in browse consumption is linked to changing nutritional quality of grass. Results Controlling for body mass, the Pleistocene extinctions were clearly biased towards browsers. Introduced banteng appear to be primarily browsers, with their diets comprising 40% grass in the wet season and 15% in the late dry season. Buffalo have a more variable diet, with an increasing proportion of browse from the wet (30%) to the late dry season (75%), and can therefore be described as switching from grazer to browser. The decline of grass in the diet of both species appears to reflect the decline in the nutritional value of grass through the dry season, an inference supported by the negative relationship between d13C values and the nitrogen content of dung. Main conclusions Banteng and buffalo are much larger than extant native herbivores, of which browsers are restricted to isolated rocky habitats. This suggests that banteng and buffalo have filled niches made vacant following the Pleistocene extinctions. The success of buffalo appears to be related to their greater dietary breadth, which enables them to graze and browse in eucalypt savannas, whilst the browsing banteng remain tethered to a mosaic of rain forest patches. The restriction of browsers may be a long-range consequence of habitat transformations associated with Aboriginal landscape burning.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Aboriginal landscape burning;Asian water buffalo;banteng;feeding ecology;feral animals;foraging plasticity;invasion biology;late Pleistocene extinctions;megafauna;stable isotope analysis
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Palaeoecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Bowman, DMJS (Professor David Bowman)
UTAS Author:Murphy, BP (Dr Brett Murphy)
ID Code:67119
Year Published:2010
Web of Science® Times Cited:18
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2011-02-25
Last Modified:2014-12-18
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