, Volume 71, Issue 4, pp 510-517

Defining “high quality” food resources of herbivores: the case for meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus)

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Summary

Food availability, food utilization patterns and levels of some nutritional factors in plants were studied in 1984–85 in an old-field community supporting low to moderate densities of meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). Food choice and preference indices were positively related to levels of proteins, and negatively related to levels of total phenolics and ADL fibers in plants. High quality resources for voles were resources that had the highest amount of proteins, and the lowest level of total phenolics and ADL fibers among available plant species. There were only two plants species among the available ones that possessed these characteristics, Festuca rubra and Vicia cracca and they represented 25 to 50% of the available biomass during summer. Vole densities of up to 64 animals/ha were therefore not limited by the availability of high quality resources. Fecal analyses performed on 267 animals in 1984 and 269 voles in 1985 showed that all voles ate high quality resources. Meadow voles appear to choose foods with high protein content and low levels of digestion inhibitors, and not on the basis of caloric content or availability. These observations contradict predictions arising from current antiherbivore hypotheses and lead us to reconsider these models in light of this new evidence.