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Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape

Ben D. Moore1† & William J. Foley1

1School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

Present address: School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville QLD 4811, Australia

ABSTRACT

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 herbivores 2,3. 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 trade offs 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 treesby this herbivore,and thus limits the food available to koalas and potentially influences koala populations. 

  • All
  • 2013
  • Biogeography
  • Biology
  • Chlamydia
  • Diet
  • Disease
  • Ecology
  • Ellis
  • Eucalyptus
  • Genetics
  • Habitat
  • Infection
  • Interventions
  • Koala
  • Lunney
  • Threats
  • Timms
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