Ruminants grazing mixed-species pastures face many choices, including when and where to graze and how much herbage to consume. These choices affect not only the nutritional status of the animal, but also sward composition and nutritive value through selective defoliation. Limited research has been conducted in the area of dietary selection and preference, most of which has been limited to simple model systems often involving a choice between only two herbage species. Although these studies have provided a vital tool to allow understanding of the fundamental principles of foraging behavior, in reality, grazing ruminants are faced with more complex situations. Understanding and managing animal preferences in mixed swards and thereby altering dietary selection can result in greater primary (plant) and secondary (animal) productivity. Key issues to improve this understanding include a better linking of behavioral and nutritional studies, a better understanding of the genetic factors influencing diet selection, and the development of more explicit spatial models of foraging behavior that incorporate multiple scales of decision making. This article, as part of a set of synthesis articles, reviews the current state of knowledge and research methodologies related to diet selection of grazing domestic ruminants with particular reference to improved temperate grazing environments, including how well we understand each part of the complex decision-making process a grazing ruminant faces, the links with primary and secondary productivity, and developments in methodologies. Finally, we identify key areas where knowledge is lacking and further research is urgently required.
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Vol. 62 • No. 5