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The tale of the horses tail - stable isotope analysis of tail hair to adress ecological differences in three sympatric equid species in the Mongolian Gobi

All equid species are similar in size and body shape and seem to occupy very similar ecological niches. Overlap zones among species are small and little work has been done to understand resource use and physical adaptations that explains species distribution. In the Dzungarian Gobi of Mongolia three equid species, the Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus), the re-introduced Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) and the domestic horse (Equus caballus) share the same habitat and thus provide a unique opportunity for comparative ecological studies. However, continuous observations of free-ranging equid species in the harsh environment and over the large expanse of their ranges are impossible to conduct, whereas physiological measurements either require highly invasive techniques and/or the confinement to a captive or semi-captive environment. Stable isotope analysis has become a powerful tool to study feeding ecology, water use or movement pattern in contemporary, historic and ancient species. Certain hair and teeth grow continuously and when sampled longitudinally can provide temporally explicit information on dietary regime and movement pattern. Wild equids were once abundant over a wide geographic range which made them ideal species for paleodietary and parleoclimatic reconstructions using isotope analysis. Results have been widely calibrated using isotopic signature variations from modern counterparts. As a consequence, there is an advanced understanding of the assimilation of dietary isotope composition, particularly carbon, into the horse tissue. In the proposed 3-year study we want to use isotope analysis of sequentially sampled tail hair from the three sympatric equid species as an indirect measure for seasonal feeding ecology, water use, movement pattern and metabolism.The Przewalski’s horse is rather special as it became extinct in the wild, but has been re-introduced back into its original habitat. Prior to extinction in the wild almost no ecological information had been collected and many aspects of their original ecology are unknown (e.g. migratory behaviour). Comparing samples of historic autochthonous Przewalski’s horses with those of present day re-introduced Przewalski’s horses as well as sympatric Asiatic wild asses and domestic horses can be expected to help re-construct some of the original ecology profile of the Przewalski’s horse.
Statistik Austria science classification
106047         Animal ecology
107006         Nature conservation
Information im Pferdeschwanz
Project leader
Kaczensky Petra
Type of Research
Basic research
Vetmed Research Units
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Conservation Medicine
Funded by
FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Wien, Austria

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6 Publications

Šturm, MB; Smith, S; Ganbaatar, O; Buuveibaatar, B; Balint, B; Payne, JC; Voigt, CC; Kaczensky, P (2021): Isotope analysis combined with DNA barcoding provide new insights into the dietary niche of khulan in the Mongolian Gobi. PLoS One. 2021; 16(3):e0248294
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Kaczensky, P; Khaliun, S; Payne, J; Boldgiv, B; Buuveibaatar, B; Walzer, C (2019): Through the eye of a Gobi khulan - Application of camera collars for ecological research of far-ranging species in remote and highly variable ecosystems. PLoS One. 2019; 14(6):e0217772
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Kaczensky, P; Burnik Šturm, M; Sablin, MV; Voigt, CC; Smith, S; Ganbaatar, O; Balint, B; Walzer, C; Spasskaya, NN (2017): Stable isotopes reveal diet shift from pre-extinction to reintroduced Przewalski"s horses. Sci Rep. 2017; 7(1):5950
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Burnik Šturm, M; Ganbaatar, O; Voigt, CC; Kaczensky, P (2017): Sequential stable isotope analysis reveals differences in multi-year dietary history of three sympatric equid species in SW Mongolia. J Appl Ecol. 2017; 54(4):1110-1119
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Burnik Šturm, M; Ganbaatar, O; Voigt, CC; Kaczensky, P (2017): First field-based observations of δ(2)H and δ(18)O values of event-based precipitation, rivers and other water bodies in the Dzungarian Gobi, SW Mongolia. Isotopes Environ Health Stud. 2017; 53(2):157-171
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Burnik Šturm, M; Pukazhenthi, B; Reed, D; Ganbaatar, O; Sušnik, S; Haymerle, A; Voigt, CC; Kaczensky, P (2015): A protocol to correct for intra- and interspecific variation in tail hair growth to align isotope signatures of segmentally cut tail hair to a common time line. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2015; 29(11):1047-1054
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