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Keywords:

  • Orthoptera;
  • Acrididae;
  • plant–animal interactions;
  • mechanical defence;
  • Poaceae

Abstract

The plant cell wall may play an important role in defence against herbivores since it can be both a barrier to, and nutrient diluter of, the easily digested cell contents. The aim of this study was to investigate the digestibility of the cell wall of three grasses, Triticum aestivum L., Dactyloctenium radulans (R. Br.) Beauv., and Astrebla lappacea (Lindl.) Domin, by the Australian plague locust, Chortoicetes terminifera Walker (Orthoptera: Acrididae, Acridinae) as determined by the Van Soest method [Van Soest PJ, Robertson JB & Lewis BA (1991) Methods for dietary fiber, neutral detergent fiber, and nonstarch polysaccharides in relation to animal nutrition. Journal of Dairy Science 74: 3583–3597]. Determination of plant cell wall digestion by locusts required a precise methodological procedure to determine both the exact intake and the concentration of cell wall in the diet and the faeces. Plant cell wall determination is affected by the particle size distribution of the dried plant material. All three grasses differed in the percentage of cell wall per gram dry matter and the proportions of hemicellulose, cellulose, and acid-detergent sulphuric lignin within the cell wall. The locust was unable to digest the cell wall of any of the grasses. Thus, plant cell walls are a mechanical barrier hindering locusts assimilating nutrients. That is, access, rather than nutrient concentration per se, may be limiting nutrient factor.