Foraging efficiency, social status and body condition in group-living horses and ponies

Giles, S and Harris, P A and Rands, S A and Nicol, C J (2020) Foraging efficiency, social status and body condition in group-living horses and ponies. PeerJ (e10305). ISSN 2167-8359

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Abstract

Individual animals experience different costs and benefits associated with group living, which may impact on their foraging efficiency in ways not yet well specified. This study investigated associations between social dominance, body condition and interruptions to foraging behaviour in a cross-sectional study of 116 domestic horses and ponies, kept in 20 discrete herds. Social dominance was measured for each individual alongside observations of winter foraging behaviour. During bouts of foraging, the duration, frequency and category (vigilance, movement, social displacements given and received, scratching and startle responses) of interruptions were recorded, with total interruption time taken as a proxy measure of foraging efficiency. Total foraging time was not influenced by body condition or social dominance. Body condition was associated with social dominance, but more strongly associated with foraging efficiency. Specifically, lower body condition was associated with greater vigilance. This demonstrates that factors other than social dominance can result in stable differences in winter body condition.

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