It is essential to assess the feeding strategies of threatened species during resource-scarce seasons to understand their dietary niche breadth and inform appropriate habitat management measures. In this study, we examined the diet composition of four-horned antelope (FHA) Tetracerus and quadricornis, one of the least studied ungulate species, in Banke National Park, Nepal. A total of 53 fresh pellet groups were collected between December 2015 and January 2016 and analyzed using micro-histological fecal analysis technique. First, we prepared 133 micro-histological photographs of different parts of 64 reference plant species. Then we compared 1,590 fragments of 53 fecal samples with photographs of reference plants to assess the percentage of occurrence of different plant species in FHA diet. A total of 30 plant species belonging to 18 different families were identified in fecal samples. Chi-square goodness of fit tests showed that FHA appeared not to feed all plant uniformly. Out of 1,520 identified fragments in fecal samples, 1,300 were browse species and 220 were grass species. Browse represented 85.5% of the identified plant fragments, suggesting that FHA might be adopting a browser strategy at least during winter when grasses are low in abundance and their nutritive quality is poor. Tree species had the highest contribution in the diet (46.55%) followed by shrubs (24.52%). The family Gramineae was consumed in the highest proportion (27.68%) followed by Euphorbiaceae (11.95%). Overall, our results suggest that FHA has the feeding plasticity to adapt to resource fluctuation. Based on the findings of this study, we recommend that dicot plant species-particularly fruit trees and shrubs, which are the major source of nutrients for FHA during resource-lean, dry season-be conserved and natural regeneration of these taxa be promoted.
Keywords: Banke National Park; Dry season; Feeding ecology; Four-horned antelope; Micro-histological technique.