, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 446–455

Effects of plant spinescence on large mammalian herbivores

  • Susan M. Cooper
  • Norman Owen-Smith
Original Papers

DOI: 10.1007/BF01036753

Cite this article as:
Cooper, S.M. & Owen-Smith, N. Oecologia (1986) 68: 446. doi:10.1007/BF01036753


Plant thorns and spines had these effects on the feeding behaviour of the three species of browsing ungulate that we studied, kudu, impala and domestic goats: (i) bite sizes were restricted, in most cases to single leaves or leaf clusters; (ii) hooked thorns retarded biting rates; (iii) the acceptability of those plant species offering small leaf size in conjunction with prickles was lower, at least for the kudus, than those of other palatable plant species; (iv) the inhibitory effect of prickles on feeding was much less for the smaller impalas and goats than for the larger kudus; (v) from certain hook-thorned species the kudus bit off shoot ends despite their prickles; (vi) for certain straight-thorned species the kudus compensated partially for the slow eating rates obtained by extending their feeding durations per encounter. Most spinescent species were similar in their acceptability to the ungulates to unarmed palatable species, despite higher crude protein contents in their foliage than the latter. Such structural features furthermore reduce the tissue losses incurred by plants per encounter by a large ungulate herbivore, by restricting the eating rates that the animals obtain. In this way prickles function to restrict foliage losses to large herbivores below the levels that might otherwise occur.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan M. Cooper
    • 1
  • Norman Owen-Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Resource EcologyUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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