Plant sex and hare feeding preferences
To evaluate the general extent to which sex-related differences in palatability occur in boreal dioecious woody plants, males and females of five dioecious woody plant species were presented to free-ranging mountain hares (Lepus timidus) during winter. Hares strongly preferred branches from male plants when feeding on Populus tremula and Salix caprea and weakly preferred male S. pentandra. However, they did not show any sex-related preference when feeding on the other two species studied (Myrica gale and Juniperus communis). Nitrogen concentration and, to some degree, digestibility showed strong relationships with hare food preferences. By contrast, the concentration of phenolics was only weakly related to feeding preference. Phenolics could, nevertheless, still be important if only one or a few specific compounds deter hare feeding. These results indicate that sex-related differences in plant palatability in the boreal forest might be more widespread than previously believed, particularly for species of the family Salicaceae. Thus, herbivores might be responsible for the female-biased sex ratios found in willow populations in northern Scandinavia (e.g. Elmqvist et al. 1988).