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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2004 Jan-Feb;77(1):149-60.

Anatomical and histological changes in the alimentary tract of migrating blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla): a comparison among fed, fasted, food-restricted, and refed birds.

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Department of Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


During northward migration, blackcaps that arrive to refuel at stopover sites in Israel's Negev Desert have reduced masses of organs that are important in food digestion and assimilation. We tested several predictions from the general hypothesis that smaller organs of digestion (small intestine and pancreas) and nutrient assimilation (liver) bring about a lower capacity to consume food and that the organs must be restored before blackcaps can feed and digest at a high rate. We used a fasting protocol to create a group of blackcaps with reduced intestine and liver mass (reduced by 45% and 36%, respectively) compared with controls fed ad lib. Because most of the small intestine's biochemical digestive capacity reside in enterocytes found on villi, we predicted and found that reduced intestinal mass in fasted blackcaps related mainly to changes in enterocytes rather than other cells and tissues such as nonabsorptive crypt cells or underlying muscle. Because migrating blackcaps that stop over to feed begin to increase in body mass only 2 d after arrival, we predicted and found a similar recovery period in blackcaps that were first fasted but then refed--the organ mass, structure, function, and ability to consume food was restored after 2 d of feeding. Another group of food-restricted blackcaps (fed at one-third ad lib. level) lost similar amounts of body mass as fasted blackcaps but had much greater capacity to consume food than fasted blackcaps, and so we predicted that they would exhibit little or no reduction in alimentary organs relative to controls fed ad lib. A surprising result was that, as in fasted blackcaps, in food-restricted blackcaps, the decreases in masses of small intestine, liver, and pancreas were proportionally greater than the decreases in body mass or in masses of nonalimentary organs (heart, pectoralis). Food restriction, like fasting, caused a decrease in amount of intestinal mucosa and an alteration in the phenotype of enterocytes. These results are thus not consistent with the general hypothesis, and although they can be rationalized by assuming that blackcaps fed ad lib. have excess digestive capacity, it may also be that the physiological process or processes limiting very high feeding rate lie elsewhere than in the digestive system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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