Feeding ecology and diet

All members of the Bovidae are obligate herbivores, and are either grazers, browsers, or mixed grazer-browsers. Body size in Bovidae affects food requirements and feeding styles because of the relationship between size and metabolic requirements. Small species require relatively more energy and higher-quality food than do large species. In general, small bovids tend to be selective (concentrated) feeders, eating the most nutritious and digestible plant species and parts, whereas large species are usually less selective bulk feeders, which consume large quantities of low-quality forage.

Bovids have various adaptations for foraging. Besides their modified lower incisors and canines, and in grazers, their high-crowned (hypsodont) cheek teeth, the shape of the mouth is also important for feeding. Browsing species tend to have narrow muzzles and pointed pre-maxillae, grazers have broader muzzles with square pre-maxillae, and in mixed grazer-browsers, the muzzle and pre-maxillae are, not surprisingly, intermediate. Most bovids have elongated skulls with the eyes located laterally and toward the top of the head. This elongated skull not only helps with foraging in some species, but might also benefit them to more easily detect predators while feeding. Browsing bovids will often stand on their hind legs to gain access to higher levels of shrubs. Many also have long slender necks that also help them to browse higher up a shrub or bush; the gerenuk (Litocranius walleri) has relatively the longest neck of all bovids and it, too, will stand on its hind legs when browsing particularly tall bushes.

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