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
- Moore, BD, Lawler IR, Wallis, IR, Beale C, Foley WJ (2010) Palatability mapping: a koala's eye view of spatial variation in habitat quality. Ecology 91: 3165–3176 (pdf, 1.2 MB)
- Tucker, DJ, Wallis, Bolton, J. Marsh, KJ, Brereton IA, Foley WJ. (2010) A metabolomic approach to identifying new vertebrate antifeedant compounds in Eucalyptus. Journal of Chemical Ecology 36:727–735. (pdf, 319 KB)
- Wallis IR, Nicole D. and Foley WJ (2010) Available nitrogen explains key chemical differences between the eucalypt subgenera. Forest Ecology and Management 260: 814-821. (pdf, 256 KB)
- DeGabriel JL, Moore BD, Foley WJ, Johnson CN (2008) The effects of plant defensive chemistry on nutrient availability predict reproductive success in a mammal. Ecology 90:711–719 (pdf, 254 KB)
- Felton AM, Felton A, Raubenheimer D, Simpson S, Foley WJ, Wood J, Wallis IR, Lindenmayer DB (2009) The protein content of food items dictates the total energy intake of a free-ranging primate. Behavioural Ecology 20:685-690 (PDF, 147 KB)
- Moore BD, Foley WJ (2005) Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape. Nature 435:488-490 (PDF, 215 KB).