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Hall, LK, Larsen, RT, Knight, RN, McMillan, BR. 2018. Feral horses influence both spatial and temporal patterns of water use by native ungulates in a semi-arid environment. Ecosphere 9: e02096.

The horse (Equus caballus) is a feral ungulate that currently exceeds target population sizes in many areas of western North America. Horses are behaviorally dominant over native ungulates and outcompete the latter for access to water sources. However, a better understanding of the broader spatial and temporal implications of horse-induced competition on access to water by native ungulates will enable better conservation and management of native species. Our objective was to determine whether pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) spatially or temporally altered their use of water to minimize interactions with horses. From 2010 to 2014, we used remote cameras to monitor ungulates at 32 water sources in the Great Basin Desert. We evaluated spatial and temporal partitioning by these species at water sources using generalized linear models, mixed-effects models, and Mann–Whitney U tests. We found that both native ungulates used water sources less often where horse activity at water sources was high, indicating that spatial avoidance occurred. Further, we observed significant differences in peak arrival time for pronghorn, but not mule deer at horse-occupied sites versus sites where horses were absent or uncommon, indicating that temporal avoidance may be more important for pronghorn than mule deer. Because mule deer are primarily crepuscular and nocturnal whereas horses are largely diurnal, we did not expect to observe a temporal shift for mule deer. We also found strong support for the interactive negative effect of elevated temperature and subsequent increased activity of horses at water sources on drinking patterns of pronghorn and mule deer. Our findings indicate that feral horses further constrain access to an already limited resource for native species in a semi-arid environment.

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