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Sex Differences in Feeding Behaviour at Feeding Station Scale in Soay Sheep (Ovis Aries)

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Herbivorous ungulates live in a spatially heterogeneous environment making foraging decisions at a range of hierarchical scales, from bite size to landscape. We investigated the factors that control intake rate in Soay sheep (Ovis aries) when discrete items of food were sparsely distributed at the feeding station scale. Within the feeding station we varied the difficulty of accessing food, distance between items of food, difficulty of finding the food and complexity of the feeding station and recorded how intake rate responded in relation to body size, mouth size and the sex of the animal. Our findings demonstrated how increasing difficulty of accessing food, and increasing complexity of the feeding station negatively affected intake rate. The expected mechanistic response that smaller animals or animals with smaller mouth size were better at handling discrete small items of food, was overridden by individual and sexual differences in behaviour. We also considered that intake rate within a feeding station could be maximised by optimising the spatial pattern of offtake, and the results clearly indicated that both sexes tended to show clustered patterns of offtake. Animals of the same sex responded in a similar way to the difficulty in handling food items; males persevered more than females and consequently were less handicaped by having larger mouths. We discussed these results in relation to behavioural and body mass differences between the sexes and animals.


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