, Volume 38, Issue 12, pp 1544-1551

Influences of Plant Toxins and Their Spatial Distribution on Foraging by the Common Brushtail Possum, a Generalist Mammalian Herbivore

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Abstract

Generalist herbivores forage on a variety of plant species, allowing them to gain nutrients while limiting ingestion of harmful toxins. As the capacity to mix diets appears important for maximizing intake, the spatial scale in heterogeneity of food resources should influence the foraging behavior of herbivores. Our aim was to identify how the feeding strategy of a generalist mammalian herbivore, the common brushtail possum, responds to foods within a spatially defined environment. We evaluated foraging responses against increasing spatial separation between pairs of artificial diets that differed in flavor and toxin profile, to determine how distance and diet affect intake and behavior. Foraging responses were influenced by the type of diet or the degree of spatial separation between foods but not by their interaction. Diet influenced intake, time spent feeding, and feeding rate, but had no effect on nightly foraging interval, number of feeding bouts, or bout length. The number of switches between paired food resources and foraging efficiency (intake per unit distance, which accounts for the energetic costs of travelling), were influenced only by distance. Titrating foraging against a range of distances demonstrated how quickly foraging efficiency can decline in response to the spatial separation of food resources, highlighting the importance of spatial heterogeneity of plants within the home range of an herbivore.