The herbivore's dilemma: to eat or be eaten

20 February 2013

Join us for this special lecture by Dr Clare McArthur as part of the 50th birthday celebrations for the School of Biological Sciences.

As Ulysses sails home, he is confronted with many perils. Negotiate poorly and he is either attacked by Scylla, the six-headed monster, or drowned in the swirling whirlpools of Charybdis. Like Ulysses, herbivores must negotiate their own perils — and not just once, but every time they go out for a meal. On one hand, they may be poisoned by the plants they eat, and on the other, they may themselves be eaten by predators; provoking the never-ending daily dilemma of what to eat without being eaten.

Night vision of a bushbaby contemplating the risks of a meal
Night vision of a bushbaby contemplating the risks of a meal

Using captive and free-ranging leaf-eaters (Australian brushtail possums) and free-ranging fruit-eaters (African thick-tailed bushbabies), Associate Professor Clare McArthur will demonstrate how these animals solve the foraging dilemma by changing their behaviour and use of food patches in response to the interplay between toxin concentration and patch safety. You will be surprised at how the animals detect, quantify and compare the costs of food and fear and, by manipulating the quality of food patches, Clare can pinpoint where the animals consider the two costs to be equal.

Finally, you will see how the personality of individual animals may shift the foraging balance between food and fear, with implications not just for individuals, but for ecological populations and communities.

Time: 6pm

Location: Macleay Museum

Cost: Free

Contact: Cecily Oakley

Phone: 02 9351 4543

Email: 52510c260521130e10302536114942275332595420

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