Co-occurrence and potential for competition between wild and domestic large herbivores in a South American desert.
Introduction of domestic ungulates may lead to interspecific competition with native herbivores, particularly if the species involved are of similar size and share similar foraging strategies due to a scarcity of trophic resources. This interaction has not been investigated in South American deserts in which guanaco (Lama guanicoe), the larger South American wild camelid and the most widely-distributed ungulate, co-occurs with several introduced ungulates (e.g. cattle, donkeys, sheep or red deer). We studied the occurrence and abundance patterns of guanacos, donkeys and cattle in desert areas of Argentina by dung sampling. Analyses of co-occurrence show no relationship in land use between guanaco and livestock when geographical effects are removed. Distribution and abundance models of the guanaco are strongly associated with sparse plant cover, rocky substrata and human-influence variables, guanacos appearing in areas furthest from villages. Nevertheless, while guanaco distribution is weakly related to feral livestock presence, their abundance is negatively associated with donkey presence. In contrast, livestock species appear closely associated with each other, being centred on areas of densest and most productive vegetation. These results are relevant for the management of extensive arid areas of South America, where guanacos co-occur with feral donkeys and frequently conflicts with humans activities.