, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 93–107 | Cite as

Geese and dietary allelochemicals — food palatability and geophagy

  • Michael Wink
  • Angelika Hofer
  • Martin Bilfinger
  • Elke Englert
  • Martinus Martin
  • Dietrich Schneider


The palatability of plants was studied in young, immature and adult geese of three species,Anser anser, Anser indicus andBranta canadensis, with respect to secondary plant metabolites. In their first 1–4 weeks of life, hand-reared goslings feed on a wide variety of plants, more or less irrespective of their allelochemical contents. Older birds become more selective, but still consume plants which are normally considered to be unpalatable or even toxic for other animals. Choice experiments were performed with pure secondary metabolites which were offered on otherwise highly palatable food items, such as leaves ofTaraxacum officinale. These experiments revealed a similar trend, in that very young goslings discriminate their food much less than older goslings or adult geese. In general, food contaminated with essential oils was rejected, whereas alkaloids, glycosides, amines and sulfur compounds were tolerated to a remarkable degree. In consequence, especially young, but also adult geese must have a high capacity to tolerate and/or to detoxify dietary allelochemicals. Another detoxification mechanism became evident during the experiments: geese ingest soil and mud quite regularly. It could be shown experimentally that the respective soil had a high capacity to bind alkaloids. We assume that geophagy is a means (besides a presumed active detoxification in the liver) to adsorb and thus reduce the contents of dietary allelochemicals.

Key words

allelochemicals chemical defence choice experiments food selection geophagy herbivory Anseriformes Anser anser Anser indicus Branta canadensis 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bernays EA, Chapman R (1987) The evolution of deterrent responses in plant-feeding insects. Pp 159–173in Bernays E, Chapman M, Stoffolano J (eds) Perspectives in Chemoreception and Behaviour. New York, Heidelberg: Springer VerlagGoogle Scholar
  2. Bernays EA, Graham M (1988) On the evolution of host specificity in phytophagous arthropods. Ecology 69:886–892Google Scholar
  3. Buchsbaum R, Valiela I (1987) Variability in the chemistry of estuarine plants and its effect on feeding by Canada geese. Oecologia 73:146–153Google Scholar
  4. Buchsbaum R, Valiela I, Swain T (1984) The role of phenolic compounds and other plant constituents in feeding by Canada geese in a coastal marsh. Oecologia 63:343–349Google Scholar
  5. Buchsbaum R, Wilson J, Valiela I (1986) Digestibility of plant constituents by Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and Atlantic Brant (Branta bernicla). Ecology 67:386–393Google Scholar
  6. Clay K (1990) Fungal endophytes of grasses. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 21:275–297Google Scholar
  7. Detzel A, Wink M (1993) Attraction, deterrence or intoxication of bees (Apis mellifera) by plant allelochemicals. Chemoecology 4:8–18Google Scholar
  8. Dowd PF (1992) Insect fungal symbionts: a promising source of detoxifying enzymes. J Indust Microbiol 9:149–161Google Scholar
  9. Drent R, Swiestra P (1977) Goose flocks and food finding: field experiments with barnacle geese in winter. Wildfowl 28:15–20Google Scholar
  10. Gauthier G, Bedard J (1990) The role of phenolic compounds and nutrients in determining food preference in greater snow geese. Oecologia 84:553–558Google Scholar
  11. Gauthier G, Bedard J (1991) Experimental tests of the palatability of forage plants in greater snow geese. J Appl Ecol 28:491–500Google Scholar
  12. Harborne JB (1988) Introduction to Ecological Biochemistry. 3rd ed. London, New York: Academic PressGoogle Scholar
  13. Hegnauer R (1962–1992) Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen. Vols 1–10. Basel: Birkhäuser VerlagGoogle Scholar
  14. Johns T (1986) Detoxification function of geophagy and the domestication of potato. J Chem Ecol 12:635–646Google Scholar
  15. Johns T (1990) With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It. Tucson/AZ: Univ. of Arizona PressGoogle Scholar
  16. Middleton BA, Van der Valk AG (1987) The food habits of greylag and barheaded geese in the Keoladeo National Park, India. Wildfowl 38:94–102Google Scholar
  17. Munn CA (1994) Winged rainbows-Macaws. National Geographic 185:118–140Google Scholar
  18. Schlee D (1992) Ökologische Biochemie. 2nd ed. D-Stuttgart: Fischer VerlagGoogle Scholar
  19. Sedinger JS (1984) Protein and amino-acid composition of tundra vegetation in relation to nutritional requirements of geese. J Wildl Managem 48:1128–1136Google Scholar
  20. Sedinger JS, Raveling DG (1984) Dietary selectivity in relation to availability and quality of food for goslings of cackling geese,Branta canadensis minima. Auk 101:295–306Google Scholar
  21. Snow B, Snow D (1988) Bird and Berries. A Study of an Ecological Interaction. Calton: PoyserGoogle Scholar
  22. Swain T (1977) Secondary compounds as protective agents. Annu Rev Plant Physiol 28:479–501Google Scholar
  23. Wink M (1988) Plant breeding: importance of plant secondary metabolites for protection against pathogens and herbivores. Theor Appl Genet 75:225–233Google Scholar
  24. Wink M (1992a) The role of quinolizidine alkaloids in plant-insect interactions. Pp 133–169in Bernays EA (ed.) Insect-Plant Interactions. Vol. IV: 131–166. Boca Raton/FL: CRC PressGoogle Scholar
  25. Wink M (1992b) Lupinen 1991 — Forschung, Anbau und Verwertung. D-Heidelberg: Universität HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  26. Wink M (1993a) Quinolizidine alkaloids. Pp 197–239in Waterman P (ed.) Methods in Plant Biochemistry. Vol. 8. London, New York: Academic PressGoogle Scholar
  27. Wink M (1993b) Allelochemical properties and the raison d'être of alkaloids. Pp 1–118in Cordell J (ed.) The Alkaloids. Vol. 43. New York: Academic PressGoogle Scholar
  28. Würdinger I (1979) Olfaction and feeding behaviour in juvenile geese —Anser anser andAnser domesticus. Z Tierpsychol 49:132–135Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Wink
    • 1
  • Angelika Hofer
  • Martin Bilfinger
  • Elke Englert
  • Martinus Martin
  • Dietrich Schneider
    • 2
  1. 1.Institut für Pharmazeutische Biologie der Universität HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.Max-Planck-Institut für VerhaltensphysiologieSeewiesenGermany

Personalised recommendations