, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 1013-1025

Pine needle oil causes avoidance behaviors in pocket gopherGeomys bursarius

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Essential oils from coniferous trees contain secondary metabolites that act as feeding deterrents for a number of herbivorous mammals. We investigated effects of pine needle oil on feeding and other behaviors of herbivorous plains pocket gophers. In experiment l, pocket gophers were offered sweet potato from single feeding stations placed in home cages of individually housed animals. Stations contained either a scent dispenser with pine needle oil or mineral oil. Subjects removed significantly less food from stations scented with pine needle oil. Experiment 2 was performed to investigate neophobic responses to odors.d-Pulegone, presented under conditions identical to those used in experiment l, did not reduce food removal compared to mineral oil. In experiment 3 pocket gophers were observed in a maze consisting of a start box connected to two goal boxes by tunnels. One goal was scented with pine needle oil, the second with mineral oil. Subjects entered goals scented with pine needle oil significantly less frequently than goals scented with mineral oil and spent less time there. They performed all recorded behaviors at lower frequencies while located in pine-scented goals. In experiment 4 animals were introduced into a maze consisting of a start box from which two soil-packed tunnels could be entered. Embedded in the soil of one tunnel was a barrier of electrical cable that had been soaked in pine needle oil, the second tunnel contained a barrier of cable soaked in mineral oil. Pocket gophers gnawed significantly less insulation from cable treated with pine needle oil than from cable treated with mineral oil. Our results show that constituents in pine needle oil are aversive to plains pocket gophers. Under natural conditions they may function as feeding deterrents. Some of the compounds may be suitable repellents for control of pocket gopher damage.