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Oecologia. 1991 Dec;88(4):521-528. doi: 10.1007/BF00317715.

Effects of spines and thorns on Australian arid zone herbivores of different body masses.

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Department of Biology, The University of Michigan, 48109-1115, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
School of Natural Resources, The University of Michigan, 48109-1115, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, 2033, Kensington, N.S.W., Australia.


We investigated the effects of thorns and spines on the feeding of 5 herbivore species in arid Australia. The herbivores were the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), euro kangaroo (Macropus robustus), red kangaroo (Macropus rufus), sheep (Ovis aries), and cattle (Bos taurus). Five woody plants without spines or thorns and 6 woody plants with thorns were included in the study. The spines and thorns were not found to affect the herbivores' rates of feeding (items ingested/min), but they did reduce the herbivores' rates of biomass ingestion (g-dry/item). The reduction in biomass ingested occurred in two ways: at a given diameter, twigs with spines and thorns had less mass than undefended plants, and the herbivores consumed twigs with smaller diameters on plants with spines and thorns. The relative importance of the two ways that twigs with spines and thorns provided less biomass varied with herbivore body mass. Reduced twig mass was more important for small herbivores, while large herbivores selected smaller diameters. The effectiveness of spines and thorns as anti-herbivore defenses did not vary with the evolutionary history of the herbivores (i.e. native vs. introduced). Spines and thorns mainly affected the herbivores' selection of maximum twig sizes (reducing diameter and mass), but the minimum twig sizes selected were also reduced.


Australia, kangaroos; Herbivory; Plant defenses; Plantanimal interactions

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