Intraspecific variation in Eucalyptus secondary metabolites determines food intake by folivorous marsupials


I.R. Lawler1, W.J. Foley1, B.M. Eschler1D.M. Pass2, K. Handasyde3

1Department of Zoology and Tropical Ecology, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, 4811, Queensland, Australia e-mail: , Fax: +61-26-249-5573
2Department of Molecular Sciences, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, 4811, Queensland, Australia
3Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3052, Victoria, Australia


Traditional approaches to the question of the e€ffects of plant secondary metabolites on the feeding choices of folivores of Eucalyptus have focused on the tree species level, although numerous field studies of foraging behaviour have identified selection at the level of the individual trees. Attempts to relate these decisions to deterrency resulting from secondary leaf chemistry have been inconclusive because assays used have focused on broad groups of compounds such as ‘‘total’’ phenolics. In this study we have conducted no-choice feeding trials with two arboreal mammalian folivores, the common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) and the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), to measure deterrency of individual trees of two species of Eucalyptus, E. ovata and E. viminalis. Average daily intakes of E. ovata foliage by common ringtail possums ranged from 2.5 to 50 g kg-0.75 body mass. Koala intakes of foliage from the same individual trees ranged from 22.4 to 36.3 g kg-0.75 body mass. When fed foliage from di€erent individual E. viminalis trees, common ringtail possums ate between 1.26 and 6.28 g kg-0.75 body mass while koalas ate from 14.3 to 45.9 g kg-0.75 body mass. Correlative analyses showed no relationships between feeding and several measures of nutritional quality, nor with total phenolics or condensed tannins. They did, however, identify two groups of plant secondary metabolites that may cause deterrency: terpenes, and a defined group of phenolic compounds, the diformylphloroglucinols (DFPs). Further bioassay experiments with common ringtail possums showed that only the DFPs could cause the e€ects seen with the foliage experiments at concentrations similar to those found in the leaves. We argue that, when in suciently high concentrations, DFPs determine the level of food intake by these animals irrespective of other questions of nutritional quality of the leaves.