Original Papers

Oecologia

, Volume 67, Issue 1, pp 142-146

Condensed tannins deter feeding by browsing ruminants in a South African savanna

  • S. M. CooperAffiliated withCentre for Resource Ecology, University of the Witwatersrand
  • , N. Owen-SmithAffiliated withCentre for Resource Ecology, University of the Witwatersrand

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Summary

The palatability of 14 species of woody plant was assessed for three species of browsing ruminant, namely kudus, impalas and goats. Results show that palatability was most clearly related to leaf contents of condensed tannins. The effect was a threshold one, with all plants containing more than 5% condensed tannins being rejected as food during the wet season period. In contrast palatability was not influenced by concentrations of protein-precipitating polyphenols, and only weakly related to contents of nitrogen, phosphorus, cations, fibre components and other secondary metabolites. Insect herbivory shows a different pattern. These findings support the hypotheses that (i) condensed tannins function to protect plant cell walls against microbial attack; (ii) hydrolyzable tannins function to inactivate the digestive enzymes of insect herbivores. Large mammalian herbivores are influenced by condensed tannins due to their dependance upon microbial fermentation of plant cell walls for part of their energy needs.