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Catechin content and consumption ratio of the collared lemming

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Chemical– plant defences as mechanisms affecting herbivore populations have been debated during the past decade. Several authors have questioned the hypothesis, but the present study shows that collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) in northeast Greenland prefer food plants with a lower catechin content. Dicrostonyx species are known to have specialised on shrubs, especially Dryas spp. and Salix spp., rather than graminoids like other related microtines. Bioassays were conducted using food material from Dryas spp., Salix arctica, Vaccinium uliginosum, Kobresia myosuroides and Poa glauca. Enclosures with the first three species mentioned were further treated by clipping to simulate herbivory in order to induce the production of the plant defence compound catechin. Treatment increased the catechin content in Dryas spp., S. arctica (females only) and V. uliginosum significantly compared with the catechin concentration in untreated plants. These elevated catechin concentrations had a significantly negative effect on the consumption rate of Dryas spp. and female S. arctica by collared lemmings.

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I thank Dorthe Prip Larhman for excellent assistance in the field; Mads C. Forchhammer for statistical advise and together with Koos Boomsma for valuable comments on the manuscript. I thank the two referees for valuable comments and suggestions for improvements. Beckett Fonden provided the financial support for the field assistant. The Danish Polar Center is acknowledged for providing access to ecosystem monitoring data and logistics at the research station at Zackenberg. Analyses of catechin content were conducted at the Department of Plant Ecology, Institute of Botany, University of Copenhagen. I was supported by a joint Ph.D. fellowship from the Danish National Environmental Research Institute and the Danish Research Academy.

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Correspondence to Thomas B. Berg.

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Berg, T.B. Catechin content and consumption ratio of the collared lemming. Oecologia 135, 242–249 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-002-1176-1

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  • Dicrostonyx groenlandicus
  • Greenland
  • Phenol
  • Plant defence
  • Plant–lemming interaction