Compared to other ungulates of North America, free-roaming horses (Equus caballus) possess a unique evolutionary history that has given rise to a distinct suite of behavioral, morphological, and physiological traits. Because of their unique combination of cecal digestion, an elongate head with flexible lips, and non-uniform use of the landscape, horses represent a unique disturbance agent in semi-arid ecosystems of the western United States. Consequently, it is inappropriate to assume that influences of horses on the structure, composition, function, and pattern of arid and semi-arid ecosystems will mirror influences of cattle or other artiodactyls. Although management areas for free-roaming horses occupy 18.6 million ha of land across western North America, we know relatively little about how western ecosystems and their components have responded to this uniquely managed ungulate. I draw on my research of horse habitats in the western Great Basin (U.S.A.) to examine predictions of horses' unique influence, and advocate for continued research to refine our understanding of synecological relationships among horses and diverse ecosystem components in arid and semi-arid regions.
Additional publication details
Management implications of the ecology of free-roaming horses in semi-arid ecosystems of the western United States