Ecological Example Of Conditioned Flavor Aversion In Plant-Herbivore Interactions: Effect Of Terpenes Of Eucalyptus Leaves On Feeding By Common Ringtail And Brushtail Possums


Division of Botany and Zoology Australian National University Canberra, Australia 0200


We investigated the hypothesis that feeding deterrence of common ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) and common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) by Eucalyptus terpenes (in this case 1,8-cineole) is a result of a conditioned flavor aversion (CFA), due to the association of terpenes with postingestive effects of another group of Eucalyptus toxins, the diformylphloroglucinol compounds (DFPCs). Wild-caught common ringtail and common brushtail possums showed a dose-dependent reduction in food intake when 1,8-cineole was added to the diet. However, after continued exposure over 12 days to increasing amounts of cineole in the diet, both species substantially increased their intakes of cineole relative to control animals. This indicated that the aversion to cineole was a conditioned response rather than a physiological limitation in their ability to detoxify terpenes. Subsequent exposure to a diet including both cineole and jensenone (a simple DFPC also found in Eucalyptus and considered to cause postingestive emesis) in corresponding amounts was able to recondition the dose-dependent aversion. Consequently, animals that had been given jensenone showed an aversion to cineole-rich diets that matched the behavior of animals in the control group. This supported our hypothesis that the effect of terpenes on feeding of these marsupial folivores on Eucalyptus is due to a CFA. Possums can cope with levels of terpenes in the diet that far exceed those occurring naturally. The role of terpenes in marsupial folivore—Eucalyptus interactions appears to be to act as a cue to levels of toxic DFPCs in the leaves, rather than acting as toxins in their own right.