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Volatiles and Tannins in Pistacia lentiscus and Their Role in Browsing Behavior of Goats (Capra hircus)

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Abstract

Goat herding is an important tool in the ecologically sound management of Mediterranean shrublands and woodlands, although effective levels of woody biomass removal by the goats is neither guaranteed nor easy to predict. Preliminary observations indicated that one reason for this may be poor understanding of plant-herbivore interactions that operate intraspecifically at the local spatial scale. We asked, whether goats show intraspecific preferences among neighboring plants when foraging a small local population of Pistacia lentiscus, a dominant tall shrub. First, we characterized and quantified the profile of stored and emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the PEG-binding capacity of tannins (a proxy for protein binding capacity) in the foliage of P. lentiscus shrubs, sampled within an area of 0.9 ha. We then tested goat preference between pairs of these shrubs that differed in chemical composition. Almost all sampled P. lentiscus shrubs were allocated to one of two distinct VOC chemotypes: one dominated by germacrene D and limonene (designated chemotype L) and the other by germacrene D and α-pinene (chemotype P). In contrast, continuous moderate variability was found in the binding capacity of tannins in the foliage. Goats showed preference for shrubs of chemotype L over those of chemotype P, and their preference was negatively correlated with the binding capacity of tannins. Possible influences of VOCs on goat preference that may explain the observed patterns are discussed in the light of possible context-dependent interpretation of plant VOC signals by large mammalian herbivores.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park for hosting this research and partially funding the chemical analyses. The authors thank Avi Perevolotsky, Yan Landau, Alexander Weinstein, Hillary Voet, Levana Devash, Tania Masci, Ben Spitzer-Rimon, Uzi Ravid and Fred Provenza for their valuable help and advice.

Author information

Correspondence to Shilo Navon.

Ethics declarations

The preference experiments were approved by the Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee of the Israeli Agricultural Research Organization (ARO).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Navon, S., Kigel, J., Dudai, N. et al. Volatiles and Tannins in Pistacia lentiscus and Their Role in Browsing Behavior of Goats (Capra hircus). J Chem Ecol 46, 99–113 (2020) doi:10.1007/s10886-019-01124-x

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Keywords

  • Essential oil
  • Foraging
  • Mediterranean shrubland
  • Local spatial scale
  • Terpenes
  • Intraspecific