Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape

Moore, Ben D, and Foley, William J (2005) Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape. Nature, 435 (7041). pp. 488-490.

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Although defence against herbivores is often argued to be the main action of plant secondary metabolites (PSMs)1, very few examples have demonstrated that intraspecific variation in PSM concentrations influences foraging by wild vertebrate herbivores2,3. Experiments with captive animals often indicate that PSM concentrations influence how much herbivores eat from individual plants3–7, but these experiments do not replicate the subtle tradeoffs in diet selection faced by wild animals, which must avoid predators and extremes of weather, interact with conspecifics, and achieve a balanced, nutritious diet, while avoiding intoxication by PSMs. We characterized the foliar chemistry of every tree from two Eucalyptus species available to a population of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) and considered rates of tree visitation over a ten-year period. We show that visitation rate was most strongly influenced by tree size, but that koalas also visited trees less frequently if the foliage contained either high concentrations of deterrent PSMs known as formylated phloroglucinol compounds,or low concentrations of nitrogen. Consequently, plant chemistry restricts the use of trees by this herbivore, and thus limits the food available to koalas and potentially influences koala populations.

Item ID: 664
Item Type: Article (Short Note)
ISSN: 0028-0836
Keywords: Phascolarctos cinerus, Koala, Eucalyptus, Formylated phloroglucinol compounds, Herbivory, Folivore, Diet selection, Nutrition, Plant secondary compounds, PSM
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© 2005 Nature Publishing Group : This journal is available online - use hypertext links above.

Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2006
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060208 Terrestrial Ecology @ 0%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 0%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0699 Other Biological Sciences @ 0%
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