Quantifying the response of free-ranging mammalian herbivores to the interplay between plant defense and nutrient concentrations

Miguel Bedoya Perez, Daniel Issa, Peter B Banks, Clare McArthur

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    While trying to achieve their nutritional requirements, foraging herbivores face the costs of plant defenses, such as toxins. Teasing apart the costs and benefits of various chemical constituents in plants is difficult because their chemical defenses and nutrient concentrations often co-vary. We used an approach derived from predator–prey studies to quantitatively compare the foraging response of a free-ranging mammalian herbivore, the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor), through three feeding trials with artificial diets that differed in their concentrations of (1) the terpene 1,8-cineole, (2) primary constituents (including nitrogen and fiber), and (3) both the terpene and the primary constituents. Applying the giving-up density (GUD) framework, we demonstrated that the foraging cost of food patches increases with higher dietary cineole concentration and decreases with higher dietary nutrient concentration. The effect of combined differences in nutrients and cineole concentrations on GUD was interactive, and high nutrient food required more cineole to achieve the same patch value as low nutrient food. Our results indicate that swamp wallabies equate low nutrient, poorly defended food with high nutrient, highly defended food, providing two contrasting diets with similar cost–benefit outcomes. This behavior suggests that equal concentrations of chemical defenses provide nutrient-poor plants with relatively greater protection as nutrient-rich plants. Nutrient-rich plants may therefore face the exacerbated problem of being preferred by herbivores and therefore need to produce more defense compounds to achieve the same level of defense as nutrient-poor plants. Our findings help explain the difference in anti-herbivore strategy of nutrient-poor and rich plants, i.e., tolerance versus defense.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1167-1177
    Number of pages11
    Issue number4
    Early online date13 Jun 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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