“Cagey” trees have safer lives

Tristan Charles-Dominique, Jean-Francois Barczi, Elizabeth Le Roux and Simon Chamaillé-Jammes

Where large browsers such as impalas or kudus are abundant, trees survive only if they have chemical or structural defences. Structural defences include the arrangement of dense and intricate architecture, termed ‘cage’ architecture. Previous studies showed that trees developing in herbivore-rich environments tend to have more cage architecture, but its precise effect on mammalian herbivores remains unknown. In this paper, we test experimentally how cage architecture affects the bite rate of goats, a generalist mammalian herbivore. We selected 11 palatable tree species with contrasting architectures and described their ‘caginess’. Lastly we evaluated how the caginess of trees affects herbivores when feeding on the inner leaves in tree crowns. We observed that the bite rate of goats on inner leaves of the cagiest trees was so severely reduced that they could not satisfy their daily nutritional requirements. We discuss how this could affect the preference of wild herbivores for less cagey trees, especially at the end of the dry season.

Image caption: Image provided by authors.
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