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The whitethroat woodrat (Neotoma albigula) eats juniper (Juniperus monosperma), but the amount of juniper in its diet varies seasonally. We tested whether changes in juniper consumption are due to changes in ambient temperature and what the physiological consequences of consuming plant secondary compounds (PSCs) at different ambient temperatures might be. Woodrats were acclimated to either 20ºC or 28ºC. Later, they were given two diets to choose from (50% juniper and a nontoxic control) for 7 d. Food intake, resting metabolic rate (RMR), and body temperature (Tb) were measured over the last 2 d. Woodrats at 28ºC ate significantly less juniper, both proportionally and absolutely, than woodrats at 20ºC. RMRs were higher for woodrats consuming juniper regardless of ambient temperature, and Tb was higher for woodrats consuming juniper at 28ºC than for woodrats eating control diet at 28ºC. Thus, juniper consumption by N. albigula is influenced by ambient temperature. We conclude that juniper may influence thermoregulation in N. albigula in ways that are helpful at low temperatures but harmful at warmer temperatures in that juniper PSCs may be more toxic at warmer temperatures. The results suggest that increases in ambient temperature associated with climate change could significantly influence foraging behavior of mammalian herbivores.

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This document was originally published by University of Chicago Press in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. Copyright restrictions may apply. DOI: 10.1086/588490

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