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Journal Article

Food Selection by Two Vole Species in Relation to Plant Growth Strategies and Plant Chemistry

Joakim Hjältén, Kjell Danell and Lars Ericson
Oikos
Vol. 76, No. 1 (May, 1996), pp. 181-190
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos
DOI: 10.2307/3545760
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3545760
Page Count: 10

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Topics: Voles, Plants, Species, Herbs, Plant growth, Herbivores, Umbrellas, Nitrogen, Chemicals, Water consumption
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Food Selection by Two Vole Species in Relation to Plant Growth Strategies and Plant Chemistry
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Abstract

Voles (Microtus spp. and Clethrionomys spp.) utilize a large variety of plant species during summer and due to selective feeding they can affect the structure of plant communities. In this study we try to determine which factors explain food preferences of voles. In feeding trials we determined the palatability of food for two species of voles, Clethrionomys glareolus and Microtus agrestis, for 20 plant species, including dwarf shrubs, grasses and herbs. Subsequently, we correlated vole food preference with plant morphology, plant growth strategies and plant chemistry. There was a significant correlation between C. glareolus and M. agrestis for palatability of food, even though M. agrestis consumed considerably more grass than C. glareolus. Furthermore, C. glareolus utilized species containing toxins to a larger extent than M. agrestis. Both vole species preferred easily available small umbrella herbs (and graminoids in the case of M. agrestis) over rosette herbs, dwarf shrubs and tall umbrella herbs. However, within each plant morphology group there was considerable variation in plant palatability. Plant species with low compensatory ability, i.e. those unable to regenerate lost biomass during the same growing season, were the least utilized, and evergreen plants were also less preferred than plants with other growing strategies. This suggests that plant growth strategies might ultimately determine plant palatability, e.g. that for plants with these growth strategies, evolution favours unpalatable traits. Nevertheless, we found no strong relationship between vole food preference and general patterns in plant chemistry. The most plausible explanation for our results might be that the plant species used in this study, including graminoids and herbs as well as evergreen and deciduous species, are too diverse with regard to their chemistry to allow the use of standard methods to determine their quality as food to herbivores. Thus, our measurements of plant chemical characteristics need further refinement and we need further knowledge of how different chemical characters in plants affect plant palatability to herbivores.

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