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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 9;6(3):e17628. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017628.

Methane output of tortoises: its contribution to energy loss related to herbivore body mass.

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


An increase in body mass (M) is traditionally considered advantageous for herbivores in terms of digestive efficiency. However, recently increasing methane losses with increasing M were described in mammals. To test this pattern in non-mammal herbivores, we conducted feeding trails with 24 tortoises of various species (M range 0.52-180 kg) fed a diet of grass hay ad libitum and salad. Mean daily dry matter and gross energy intake measured over 30 consecutive days scaled to M(0.75 (95%CI 0.64-0.87)) and M(0.77 (95%CI 0.66-0.88)), respectively. Methane production was measured over two consecutive days in respiration chambers and scaled to M(1.03 (95%CI 0.84-1.22)). When expressed as energy loss per gross energy intake, methane losses scaled to 0.70 (95%CI 0.47-1.05) M(0.29 (95%CI 0.14-0.45)). This scaling overlaps in its confidence intervals to that calculated for nonruminant mammals 0.79 (95%CI 0.63-0.99) M(0.15 (95%CI 0.09-0.20)), but is lower than that for ruminants. The similarity between nonruminant mammals and tortoises suggest a common evolution of the gut fauna in ectotherms and endotherms, and that the increase in energetic losses due to methane production with increasing body mass is a general allometric principle in herbivores. These findings add evidence to the view that large body size itself does not necessarily convey a digestive advantage.

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