Four species of arboreal folivore show differential tolerance to a secondary metabolite

Ian Wallis, Karen Marsh, Ben Moore, Natasha Wiggins, William Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The marsupials that eat Eucalyptus in south-eastern Australia provide an example of animals with similar niche requirements occurring sympatrically. They certainly differ in size, ranging from about 1 kg in the greater glider (Petauroides volans) and the closely related common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), to 4 kg (common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula) and up to 15 kg in the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). All species, however, may eat considerable amounts of eucalypt foliage, often favouring the same species, and thus appear to compete for food. In order to better understand the degree of competition for food, we measured feeding by the greater glider in response to increasing concentrations of a specific group of eucalypt plant secondary metabolites (PSM), the sideroxylonals, and then compared it to results published for the other species. The greater glider was more resilient than the other species to increasing concentrations of sideroxylonals. We suggest this allows gliders to feed on leaves from the eucalypt subgenus, Symphyomyrtus, while its small size and gliding ability allow it to feed where koalas cannot, on the young leaves on top of the canopy. In contrast, the common ringtail possum is well adapted to feeding from species of the subgenus Eucalyptus, which do not produce sideroxylonals but contain less available nitrogen (AvailN) than do the symphyomyrtles. These ¿nutritional niches¿ segregate the forest and along with other factors, such as generalist and specialist feeding strategies and differences in body size and requirements for shelter, presumably minimise competition between the marsupial species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-258
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014
Externally publishedYes


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