Competition between domestic livestock and wild bharal Pseudois nayaur in the Indian Trans-Himalaya.
The issue of competition between livestock and wild herbivores has remained contentious. We studied the diets and population structures of the mountain ungulate bharal Pseudois nayaur and seven species of livestock to evaluate whether or not they compete for forage. The study was conducted in the high altitude Spiti Valley, Indian Trans-Himalaya. We compared resource (forage) availability and bharal population structures between rangelands differing in livestock density. Forage availability was estimated by clipping the standing graminoid biomass in sample plots. Livestock and bharal population structures were quantified through annual censuses. Seasonal diets of livestock were studied by direct observations, while those of bharal were quantified through feeding signs on vegetation. We found that livestock grazing causes a significant reduction in the standing crop of forage. Graminoid availability per unit livestock biomass was three times greater in a moderately grazed rangeland compared with an intensively grazed one. There was considerable diet overlap among the herbivore species. In summer, bharal, yak Bos grunniens, horse Equus caballus, cow Bos indicus, and dzomo (yak-cow hybrids) fed predominantly on graminoids, while donkey E. asinus, sheep Ovis aries, and goat Capra hircus, consumed both graminoids and herbs. The summer diet of bharal was a subset of the diets of three livestock species. In winter, depleted graminoid availability caused bharal, yak and horse to consume relatively more herbs, while the remaining livestock species fed predominantly on graminoids. Diet overlap was less in winter but, in both seasons, all important forage species in the bharal diet were consumed in substantial amounts by one or more species of livestock. Comparison of the population structures of bharal between two rangelands differing in livestock density by c. 30% yielded evidence of resource competition. In the intensively grazed rangeland, bharal density was 63% lower, and bharal population showed poorer performance (lower young:adult female ratios). Synthesis and applications. High diet overlap between livestock and bharal, together with density-dependent forage limitation, results in resource competition and a decline in bharal density. Under the present conditions of high livestock density and supplemental feeding, restricting livestock numbers and creating livestock-free areas are necessary measures for conserving Trans-Himalayan wild herbivores. Mediating competitive effects on bharal through supplemental feeding is not a feasible option.