The Physiological Consequences of Ingesting a Toxic Plant (Diplotaxis Tenuifolia) Influence Subsequent Foraging Decisions by Sheep (Ovis Aries)

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Physiology & Behavior




Elsevier Inc.

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Toxins and nutrients interact and define herbivores' experiences with toxic plants. However, there are still open questions about the mechanisms by which nutrient-toxin interactions affect experience and as a consequence foraging decisions by consumers. This study provides a deeper insight into such mechanisms by using supplemental nutrients, a toxic plant typically avoided by herbivores (wild rocket; Diplotaxis tenuifolia), and a small ruminant (sheep; Ovis aries) as models. Thirty-six sheep were randomly assigned to four treatments (n = 9) where animals consumed: wild rocket (“DT”), wild rocket followed by a protein supplement (“DT + P”), wild rocket followed by a protein supplement + a mineral supplement containing iodine and copper (“DT + P + M”), or alfalfa pellets in amounts that paired the ingestion of wild rocket by DT (“CTRL”). Towards the end of the phase of exposure (day 35), DT showed the lowest intake of wild rocket, as well as reduced levels of plasma thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), alanine aminotransferase, and a trend towards reduced hemoglobin relative to DT + P and DT + P + M. Total concentration of serum proteins and albumins were greater in sheep fed the protein supplements, which have probably elicited a protective effect on toxin ingestion. Foraging behavior was then evaluated in an experimental arena where animals could select among randomly distributed buckets containing a fixed amount of wild rocket or variable amounts of barley grain (a preferred food). Regardless of barley grain availability, DT showed lower intake and lower times spent eating wild rocket than DT + P and DT + P + M. Unexpectedly, CTRL (without previous experience with wild rocket) ingested amounts of wild rocket comparable to those observed by DT + P and DT + P + M. A negative feeding experience with wild rocket is needed for animals to display the typical pattern of aversion commonly observed in grazing conditions.

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