Lack of feral livestock interference with native guanaco during the dry season in a South American desert.
Analyzing coexistence of exotic and native ungulates in arid areas is important from both a theoretical and a species conservation perspective. We assess the habitat use patterns and possible interference between guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and feral livestock (donkey and cattle) in arid environments of South America. To determine habitat use and niche overlap between exotic and native ungulate species, ten sites with different habitats and six natural waterholes were selected. Plots (20 at each site, ten around each waterhole) were randomly set up and characterized by environmental variables and relative use by cattle, donkey and guanaco through faecal pellet counts. Aggregation, niche breadth and niche overlap of the three herbivores were analyzed at habitat level (mesoscale). A direct redundancy analysis was used to examine the relationships between abundance of herbivore faeces and environmental variables at microscale. Mesoscale analyses showed (i) an extensive use of the area by all three species, with guanaco having the highest niche breadth followed by donkey and cattle and (ii) a large, broad guanaco-donkey and donkey-cattle habitat overlap. However, results at a finer scale showed high spatial aggregation of feral livestock species and an independent use of territory by guanacos. This study is the first to provide information about habitat partitioning between guanacos and feral livestock in the hyper-arid Monte Desert biome and points to an apparent lack of negative effects on the native ungulate.