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Spatial scale of the patchiness of plant poisons: A critical influence on foraging efficiency


Wiggins, NL and McArthur, C and Davies, NW and McLean, SR, Spatial scale of the patchiness of plant poisons: A critical influence on foraging efficiency, Ecology, 87, (9) pp. 2236-2243. ISSN 0012-9658 (2006) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright by the Ecological Society of America

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DOI: doi:10.1890/0012-9658(2006)87[2236:SSOTPO]2.0.CO;2


Generalist mammalian browsers and folivores feed on a range of chemically different plant species, which may assist them in diluting toxins and diversifying nutrient consumption. The frequency and order in which their diets are mixed are important determinants of intake. As a result, the degree of plant heterogeneity in an environment, and the spatial scale at which this occurs, should directly influence herbivore foraging decisions. We tested whether altering the spatial scale of plants, and thus plant secondary metabolites (PSMs), affected foraging efficiency of a generalist folivore, the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). First, we demonstrated that possums were able to consume more from a mixed diet of two chemically different species, Eucalyptus globulus and E. tenuiramis, than when either of these species was offered alone. We then tested whether altering the spatial scale between E. globulus and E. tenuiramis, as small- or large-scale plant heterogeneity "patches," affected possum foraging behavior and, ultimately, their foraging efficiency. Possums increased their foraging efficiency when the spatial scale of plant heterogeneity was small rather than large. We argue that the ability to regularly switch diets, when plant spatial distribution is at a small scale, reduces the negative effects of PSM ingestion. We predict that the heterogeneity of plant patches, in relation to PSM distribution, and the scale at which this occurs across a landscape, are critical factors that influence foraging efficiency and, ultimately, fitness of mammalian herbivores. This research provides a fundamental link between plant chemistry, foraging, and habitat heterogeneity. © 2006 by the Ecological Society of America.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences
Research Group:Veterinary sciences
Research Field:Veterinary pharmacology
Objective Division:Manufacturing
Objective Group:Veterinary pharmaceutical products
Objective Field:Veterinary pharmaceutical products not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Wiggins, NL (Dr Natasha Wiggins)
UTAS Author:Davies, NW (Associate Professor Noel Davies)
UTAS Author:McLean, SR (Professor Stuart McLean)
ID Code:41169
Year Published:2006
Web of Science® Times Cited:24
Deposited By:Pharmacy
Deposited On:2006-08-01
Last Modified:2011-05-11

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