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Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Nov;58(4):779-89.

Assuaging nutritional complexity: a geometrical approach.

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Department of Zoology and University Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford, UK.


We have introduced a framework that enables the identification of the important elements in complex nutritional systems, and the quantification of the interactions among them. These interactions include those among the multiple constituents of the ingesta, as well as between behavioural (ingestive) and physiological (post-ingestive) components of nutritional homeostasis. The resulting descriptions provide a powerful means to generate and test hypotheses concerning the mechanisms, ecology and evolution of nutritional systems. We provide an overview of the key concepts involved in our scheme, and then introduce four examples in which the framework is used to develop and test hypotheses. In the first example we use comparative methods based on a data set of 117 insect species to test a prediction about the relationship between evolving an association with bacterial endosymbionts and the composition of the optimal diet. Second, using two species of locusts (a grass specialist and a generalist), we consider the relationship between an animal's diet breadth and the decision rules employed when feeding on foods containing suboptimal protein: carbohydrate values. Third, we introduce a mathematical model that predicts the dose-response properties of gustatory systems in the context of nutritional homeostasis. Finally, we consider the interaction between tannic acid and macronutrient balance in the diet of locusts.

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