Seasonal regulation of condensed tannin consumption by free-ranging goats in a semiarid savanna

Mkhize, Ntuthuko R.; Heitkönig, Ignas M.A.; Scogings, Peter F.; Hattas, Dawood; Dziba, Luthando E.; Prins, Herbert H.T.; Boer, Willem F. De


Although condensed tannins (CTs) are known to reduce forage intake by mammalian herbivores in controlled experiments, few studies have tested these effects in the field. Thus the role of CTs on foraging ecology of free-ranging herbivores is inadequately understood. To investigate the effects of CTs under natural savanna conditions, we pre-dosed groups of goats with polyethylene glycol (PEG, a CT-neutralising chemical), CT powder or water before observing their foraging behaviour. While accounting for the effects of season and time of the day, we tested the hypothesis that herbivores forage in ways that reduce the intake rate (g DM per minute) of CTs. We expected pre-dosing goats with CTs to reduce CT intake rates by (1) consuming diets low in CTs, (2) reducing bite rates, (3) increasing the number of foraging bouts, or (4) reducing the length of foraging bouts. Lastly, (5) expected CT to have no influence the number of dietary forage species. In both wet and dry seasons, pre-dosing goats with CTs resulted in lower CT consumption rates compared to PEG goats which seemed relieved from the stress associated with CT consumption. During dry season, the number of dietary forage species was similar across treatments, although goats that were dosed with PEG significantly increased this number in the wet season. Dosing goats with PEG increased the number and length of browsing bouts compared to goats from the other treatments. Pre-loading goats with PEG also tended to increase bite rates on browse forages, which contributed to increased consumption rates of CTs. Based on the behavioural adjustments made by goats in this study and within the constraints imposed by chemical complexity in savanna systems, we concluded that herbivores under natural conditions foraged in ways that minimised CTs consumption. More research should further elucidate the mechanism through which CTs regulated feeding behaviour.