Can Spectroradiometry Be Used to Quantify Dietary Quality of a Mammalian Herbivore in the Sagebrush Steppe?

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date

April 2016

Faculty Sponsor

Jen Forbey


Many herbivores in the Idaho sagebrush-steppe, especially the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis), rely heavily on sagebrush for both a dietary supplement and protection from predators. Coumarin is a phytochemical with a unique signature that previous studies have shown can predict dietary quality of plants for foraging wildlife. We examined how coumarin concentrations and measures of near infrared reflectance can be used to differentiate between microhabitat and species of sagebrush in the Idaho sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. Samples of Wyoming Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate wyomingensis) and Dwarf Sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula) were obtained from on and off of pygmy rabbit mounds outside of Leadore, Idaho. Coumarin concentrations of each individual sample were measured using UV fluorescence, and near infrared (NIR) fingerprints were measured with a spectroradiometer. A baseline model was developed using coumarins and NIR fingerprints to compare sagebrush on and off pygmy rabbit mounds. We hypothesized that species of sagebrush are identifiable by both the concentration of coumarins and NIR fingerprints. Developing a correlation between coumarin concentration and NIR will make it possible for a more efficient analysis of dietary quality in sagebrush, allowing for a more detailed analysis of plant diet quality and foraging behavior of wildlife.

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