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Seasonal differences in the relative importance of specific phenolics and twig morphology result in contrasting patterns of foraging by a generalist herbivore

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The co-evolved relationship between the chemical composition of plants and herbivory is fundamental in understanding diet selection of herbivores and their impacts on plants and ecosystems. However, the impact of plant secondary chemistry on mammalian herbivory is not fully understood. We investigated seasonal influences of phenolics with low molecular weight (e.g., flavonoids, salicylates) and plant morphology of the tea-leaved willow (Salix phylicifolia L.) on moose (Alces alces (L., 1758)) foraging. We analysed the relationship of different phenolic compounds in twigs and browsing in winter, and in leaves and the degree of leaf stripping in summer, and the role of plant morphology. In winter, higher concentrations of phenolics, e.g., myricetin-related compounds (belonging to the flavonoids), had a negative impact on herbivory by moose. This impact was not associated with a single compound but instead seemed to be more a result of synergistic or additive effects of different compounds. In contrast, the models for summer browsing showed a pronounced effect of plant morphology. Our analyses reveal differences in the relative importance of phenolics of low molecular weight and plant morphology on diet selection between seasons. These findings are relevant for understanding feeding decisions and mechanisms deterring mammalian herbivores known for shaping the vegetation on the ecosystem level.

Keywords: Alces alces; Salix phylicifolia; herbivorie; herbivory; moose; morphologie de la plante; métabolites secondaires des plantes; orignal; plant morphology; plant secondary metabolites; saule joli; tea-leaved willow

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Animal Ecology and Conservation, University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King Platz 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany. 2: Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 90183 Umeå, Sweden. 3: Department of Biology, P.O. Box 111, University of Eastern Finland, 80101 Joensuu, Finland.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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