Most of the plants that browsing mammals eat contain a complex series of natural toxins. How do these influence the plants animals choose to eat?
Several years ago we discovered a new group of plant toxins in Eucalyptus that explained brilliantly why koalas and other marsupials ate some trees and not others - in captivity at least! We thought all we had to do was to turn up in the bush and measure these chemicals in trees to explain food choices of wild marsupials. The reality has been quite different and we have learned that we need to take account of spatial variation, to focus on what animals eat and not what they don’t eat(!) and to monitor long-term reproductive consequences of different diets. We now are trying to manipulate a forest to confirm what we think the long-term effects of climate change on marsupial populations.
Papers from this work
Wallis IR, Edwards M, Windley H, Krockenberger AK, Quenzer M, Ganzhorn JU, Foley WJ (2012) Food for folivores: how can we link diet nutritional quality to populations? Oecologia 169:281-9