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J Chem Ecol. 2004 Jul;30(7):1409-29.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) resin increases water demands and reduces energy availability in desert woodrats (Neotoma lepida).

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Departamento de Bioquímica y Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Nacional de San Luis, 5700 San Luis, Argentina.


Although many plant secondary compounds are known to have serious consequences for herbivores, the costs of processing them are generally unknown. Two potential costs of ingestion and detoxification of secondary compounds are elevation of the minimum drinking water requirement and excretion of energetically expensive metabolites (i.e., glucuronides) in the urine. To address these impacts, we studied the costs of ingestion of resin from creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) on desert woodrats (Neotoma lepida). The following hypotheses were tested: ingestion of creosote resin by woodrats (1) increases minimum water requirement and (2) reduces energy available by increasing fecal and urinary energy losses. We tested the first hypothesis, by measuring the minimum water requirement of woodrats fed a control diet with and without creosote resin. Drinking water was given in decreasing amounts until woodrats could no longer maintain constant body mass. In two separate experiments, the minimum drinking water requirement of woodrats fed resin was higher than that of controls by 18-30% (about 1-1.7 ml/d). We tested several potential mechanisms of increased water loss associated with the increase in water requirement. The rate of fecal water loss was higher in woodrats consuming resin. Neither urinary water nor evaporative water loss was affected by ingestion of resin. Hypothesis 2 was tested by measuring energy fluxes of woodrats consuming control vs. resin-treated diets. Woodrats on a resin diet had higher urinary energy losses and, thus, metabolized a lower proportion of the dietary energy than did woodrats on control diet. Fecal energy excretion was not affected by resin. The excretion of glucuronic acid represented almost half of the energy lost as a consequence of resin ingestion. The increased water requirement and energy losses of woodrats consuming a diet with resin could have notable ecological consequences.

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