Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

Juan J. Villalba

Abstract

Learning from mother begins early in the developmental process and can have lifelong effects when it comes to forage preferences. Recent research suggests that mothers are a powerful and positive influence before birth. Pregnancy is not an incubation period buy a staging period for well-being and disease later in life. Better understanding the developmental processes which take place in utero and the effects they have later in life may help us create management plans that utilize grazing animals to their full potential as landscape manipulators.

Using in utero and early-life programming as a management tool is a relatively new concept, but offers a faster approach than genetic selection to respond to environmental contingencies in the short-term. Experiences in utero and early in life may have marked effects on the ability of herbivores to consume toxin-containing plants such as sagebrush. This is because environmental experiences cause epigenetic alterations in consumers which are translated into neurological, morphological, and physiological changes that influence foraging behavior. This change in behavior can reduce the competitive ability of toxin-containing plants in the community and allow for greater primary production and diversity. However, information regarding herbivores' exposure early in life to plant toxins and their subsequent physiological and behavioral responses is limited. Moreover, no information is available on early life experiences to toxin-containing shrubs like sagebrush and their subsequent influence on feeding behavior by herbivores. Thus, the objective of my research was to explore how experience in utero and early life with sagebrush affected intake of and preference for sagebrush by sheep later in life.

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