Identifying the water sources consumed by bison: implications for large mammalian grazers worldwide

TitleIdentifying the water sources consumed by bison: implications for large mammalian grazers worldwide
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsNippert, JB, Culbertson, TSF, Orozco, GL, Ocheltree, TW, Helliker, BR
Pagination23 -
Accession NumberKNZ001554

The sources of drinking water consumed by grazers vary over time and may be highly selective, similar to choices in diet. Water sources consumed by large grazers in natural populations are not typically measured directly. Instead, consumption is inferred based on animal proximity to water sources. Here, we analysed the stable isotopic signature of water (δ18O and δD) extracted from fecal samples from a herd of bison in mesic grassland as a direct estimation of the water sources consumed over time. Bison at this site have their choice of a range of habitats and drinking water sources. Potential source-water samples measured had a large range of isotopic signatures, allowing the isotopic composition of water from bison fecal samples to be proportionally estimated based on varying sources. Results indicate bison have low reliance on multiple streams on site; rather, the majority of water consumed was from rainfall-fed sources (puddles and wallows) and from forage. Our research suggests that source-water analysis from fecal samples is a robust technique when samples from large grazers can be collected soon after production. These results have implications for analyses of the foraging patterns and landscape utilization by this and other large grazers, because hotter and drier future conditions are likely to reduce the frequency and amount of rainfall-fed puddles available for consumption in many grassland systems worldwide.