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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2011 Jan;158(1):177-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2010.10.019. Epub 2010 Oct 30.

Methane output of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) fed a hay-only diet: implications for the scaling of methane production with body mass in non-ruminant mammalian herbivores.

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Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 260, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


It is assumed that small herbivores produce negligible amounts of methane, but it is unclear whether this is a physiological peculiarity or simply a scaling effect. A respiratory chamber experiment was conducted with six rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus, 1.57±0.31 kg body mass) and six guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus, 0.79±0.07 kg) offered grass hay ad libitum. Daily dry matter (DM) intake and DM digestibility were 50±6 g kg⁻⁰·⁷⁵ d⁻¹ and 55±6% in rabbits and 59±11 g kg⁻⁰·⁷⁵ d⁻¹ and 61±3% in guinea pigs, respectively. Methane production was similar for both species (0.20±0.10 L d⁻¹ and 0.22±0.08L d⁻¹ and represented 0.69±0.32 and 1.03±0.29% of gross energy intake in rabbits and guinea pigs, respectively. In relation to body mass (BM) guinea pigs produced significantly more methane. The data on methane per unit of BM obtained in this study and from the literature on the methane output of elephant, wallabies and hyraxes all lay close to a regression line derived from roughage-fed horses, showing an increase in methane output with BM. The regression, including all data, was nearly identical to that based on the horse data only (methane production in horses [L d⁻¹]=0.18 BM [kg]⁰·⁹⁷(⁹⁵%CI ⁰·⁹²⁻¹·⁰²)) and indicates linear scaling. Because feed intake typically scales to BM⁰·⁷⁵, linear scaling of methane output translates into increasing energetic losses at increasing BM. Accordingly, the data collection indicates that an increasing proportion of ingested gross energy is lost because relative methane production increases with BM. Different from ruminants, such losses (1%-2% of gross energy) appear too small in non-ruminant herbivores to represent a physiologic constraint on body size. Nevertheless, this relationship may represent a physiological disadvantage with increasing herbivore body size.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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