When art and science meet: Integrating knowledge of French herders with science of foraging behavior

  • Meuret M
  • Provenza F
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Landscapes are complex creative systems that continually transform due to ever-changing relationships among environments and organisms including human beings. During the past half-century, those who study these relationships and those who manage them have become increasingly isolated from one another in their attempts to understand and manage landscapes. As we have come to rely on experimental science to understand principles, we have diminished the importance of experiential knowledge in understanding and implementing practices. In this paper, we discuss convergence of the knowledge of herders from Southeastern France with the science of foraging behavior. We review insights of researchers gained through interviews with herders, surveys, and in situ recordings of the foraging behavior of closely herded sheep and goats. Though years of hands-on experience, herders have come to understand processes involved in food and habitat selection. Using a conceptual model of four steps, which represent four intertwined processes for a given herder-herd-fodder resource, we describe how herders 1) teach their animals to use the full range of forages, 2) train the herd to respect the boundaries of grazing areas, 3) modulate what they call the "temporary palatability scoring" of forages, and 4) establish daily grazing circuits to stimulate appetite and intake through meal sequencing. This knowledge is also valuable when the objective is to boost appetite for particular forages, such as coarse grasses, scrub, and invasive species. The practices of herders are consistent with scientific studies that show the importance of plant biodiversity for enabling animals to select nutritious diets and the significance of animal learning and culture on nutrition, production, and health. We conclude by highlighting implications for furthering the exchange between herders and scientists and by providing implications for managing grazing on pastures and rangelands, with or without shepherds and dogs, and targeting grazing on particular plants and habitats.

Author-supplied keywords

  • adaptive management
  • diet variety
  • grazing circuits
  • meal patterns
  • pastoralism
  • social learning

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  • M. Meuret

  • F. D. Provenza

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