Introduced herbivores frequently inflict significant, yet patchy damage on native ecosystems through selective browsing. However, there are few instances where the underlying cause of this patchy damage has been revealed. We aimed to determine if the nutritional quality of foliage could predict the browsing preferences of an invasive mammalian herbivore, the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), in a temperate forest in New Zealand. We quantified the spatial and temporal variation in four key aspects of the foliar chemistry (total nitrogen, available nitrogen, in vitro dry matter digestibility and tannin effect) of 275 trees representing five native tree species. Simultaneously, we assessed the severity of browsing damage caused by possums on those trees in order to relate selective browsing to foliar nutritional quality. We found significant spatial and temporal variation in nutritional quality among individuals of each tree species examined, as well as among tree species. There was a positive relationship between the available nitrogen concentration of foliage (a measure of in vitro digestible protein) and the severity of damage caused by browsing by possums. This study highlights the importance of nutritional quality, specifically, the foliar available nitrogen concentration of individual trees, in predicting the impact of an invasive mammal. Revealing the underlying cause of patchy browsing by an invasive mammal provides new insights for conservation of native forests and targeted control of invasive herbivores in forest ecosystems.
Windley, H., Barron, M., Holland, E. P., Starrs, D., RUSCOE, W., & Foley, W. (2016). Foliar nutritional quality explains patchy browsing damage caused by an invasive mammal. PLoS One, 11(5), 1-16. [e0155216]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155216