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Br J Nutr. 2010 Feb;103(4):617-26. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509992091. Epub 2009 Oct 28.

Can Iberian red deer (Cervus elaphus hispanicus) discriminate among essential minerals in their diet?

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Departamento de Ciencia y Tecnología Agroforestal y Genética, ETSIA, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 02071 Albacete, Spain.


Optimal foraging predicts that animals should be able to assess the content of important nutrients in food. Ungulates discriminate salt and P, but discrimination of other minerals is controversial even though they are also essential and often limiting. Animal scientists have explained this taste through palatability, which predicts the same pattern of discrimination for calves and hinds and greater consumption by the latter. Social learning may also be involved, predicting a correlation between mother and calf and less consumption by the latter. The present study examines the consumption behaviour of free-choice supplemented minerals by hinds and calves of Iberian red deer (Cervus elaphus hispanicus) to discern between these hypotheses. Behavioural indices of intake correlated with actual mineral consumption (P < 0.001). Mother and calf behavioural indices correlated only for salt-mixed minerals. Calves showed overall behavioural indices of consumption greater than hinds (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001), and also for all single supplements except NaCl, as expected from growth needs and in contrast to the palatability hypothesis. Calves showed a greater consumption of CuSO(4) and lower of Na(2)SeO(3) than pure salt. Hinds showed a different pattern, ingesting lower amounts of all minerals except CuSO(4) and salt. Additional analyses also showed discrimination between minerals unmixed with salt, such as CaHPO(4) and CaCO(3) (P = 0.012 and P = 0.020). The greater intake of growing calves and the different consumption patterns for hinds and calves suggest that deer can discriminate among minerals, and that they do not consume minerals for their palatability or driven by social learning. Therefore, deer may be selecting minerals according to nutritional requirements.

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