Behavioral Archives Link the Chemistry and Clonal Structure of Trembling Aspen to the Food Choice of North American Porcupine
Understanding the links among plant genotype, plant chemistry, and food selection by vertebrate herbivores is critical to assess the role of herbivores in the evolution of plant secondary chemistry. Some specialized vertebrate herbivores have been shown to select plants differentially according to plant genotype, but examples from generalists, which constitute the vast majority of vertebrate herbivores, are few, especially in natural conditions. We examined the relationship between the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), a generalist mammalian herbivore, and clonal trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), a preferred food source of porcupines. We determined preference for certain aspen trees through visual examination of porcupine climbing scars left on tree bark, and through a controlled feeding experiment. We used genetic and biochemical analyses to link the behavioral archives (climbing scars) left by porcupines on aspen trunks to the clonal structure and chemical composition of trees. We show that two phenolic glycosides (tremulacin and salicortin), which are under a high degree of genetic control and thus vary in concentration across clones, are the chemical variables that most influence (deter) feeding choices by porcupines. Using behavioral archives left by a wild herbivore on a natural stand of plants thus allowed us to demonstrate that a generalist vertebrate herbivore can choose plants according to their clonal structure and genetically based chemical composition. Our results contribute to extending previous findings obtained with generalist herbivores studied in controlled conditions, and with specialist herbivores studied in the field.
Diner, B., D. Berteaux, J. Fyles, and R.L. Lindroth. 2009. Behavioral archives link the chemistry and clonal structure of trembling aspen to the food choice of North American porcupine. Oecologia 160:687-695.