Plant Community Chemical Composition Influences Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) Intake by Sheep

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Journal of Chemical Ecology

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Nutrients and plant secondary compounds in aspen (Populus tremuloides) may interact with nutrients in the surrounding vegetation to influence aspen use by herbivores. Thus, this study aimed to determine aspen intake and preference by sheep in response to supplementary nutrients or plant secondary compounds (PSC) present in aspen trees. Thirty-two lambs were randomly assigned to one of four molasses-based supplementary feeds to a basal diet of tall fescue hay (N = 8) during three experiments. The supplements were as follows: (1) high-protein (60% canola meal), (2) a PSC (6% quebracho tannins), (3) 25% aspen bark, and (4) control (100% molasses). Supplements were fed from 0700 to 0900, then lambs were fed fresh aspen leaves collected from stands containing high (Experiment 1, 2) or low (Experiment 3) concentrations of phenolic glycosides (PG). In Experiment 2, lambs were simultaneously offered aspen, a forb (Lathyrus pauciflorus), and a grass (Bromus inermis) collected from the aspen understory. Animals supplemented with high protein or tannins showed greater intake of aspen leaves than animals supplemented with bark or the control diet (P < 0.05), likely because some condensed tannins have a positive effect on protein nutrition and protein aids in PSC detoxification. Overall, animals supplemented with bark showed the lowest aspen intake, suggesting PSC in bark and aspen leaves had additive inhibitory effects on intake. In summary, these results suggest that not only the concentration but also the types and proportions of nutrients and chemical defenses available in the plant community influence aspen use by herbivores.

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