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A case of non-scaling in mammalian physiology? Body size, digestive capacity, food intake, and ingesta passage in mammalian herbivores

Marcus Clauss a,⁎, Angela Schwarm b, Sylvia Ortmann b, W. Jürgen Streich b, Jürgen Hummel c

a Division of Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Switzerland, Winterthurerstr. 260, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
b Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) Berlin, Germany
c Institute of Animal Science, University of Bonn, Germany

As gut capacity is assumed to scale linearly to body mass (BM), and dry matter intake (DMI) to metabolic body weight (BM0.75), it has been proposed that ingesta mean retention time (MRT) should scale to BM0.25 in herbivorous mammals. We test these assumptions with the most comprehensive literature data collations (n=74 species for gut capacity, n=93 species for DMI and MRT) to date. For MRT, only data from studies was used during which DMI was also recorded. Gut capacity scaled to BM1.06. In spite of large differences in feeding regimes, absolute DMI (kg/d) scaled to BM0.76 across all species tested. Regardless of this allometry inherent in the dataset, there was only a very low allometric scaling of MRT with BM0.14 across all species. If species were divided according to the morphophysiological design of their digestive tract, there was non-significant scaling of MRT with BM0.04 in colon fermenters, BM0.08 in non-ruminant foregut fermenters, BM0.06 in browsing and BM0.04 in grazing ruminants. In contrast, MRT significantly scaled to BM0.24 (CI 0.16–0.33) in the caecum fermenters. The results suggest that below a certain body size, long MRTs cannot be achieved even though coprophagy is performed; this supports the assumption of a potential body size limitation for herbivory on the lower end of the body size range. However, above a 500 g-threshold, there is no indication of a substantial general increase of MRT with BM. We therefore consider ingesta retention in mammalian herbivores an example of a biological, time-dependent variable that can, on an interspecific level, be dissociated from a supposed obligatory allometric scaling by the morphophysiological design of the digestive tract. We propose that very large body size does not automatically imply a digestive advantage, because long MRTs do not seem to be a characteristic of very large species only. A comparison of the relative DMI (g/kg0.75) with MRT indicates that, on an interspecific level, higher intakes are correlated to shorter MRTs in caecum, colon and non-ruminant foregut fermenters; in contrast, no significant correlation between relative DMI and MRT is evident in ruminants.
© 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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