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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2011 Nov;160(3):355-64. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Jul 13.

Is there an influence of body mass on digesta mean retention time in herbivores? A comparative study on ungulates.

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Institute of Animal Science, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany.


The relation between body mass (BM) and digesta mean retention time (MRT) in herbivores was the focus of several studies in recent years. It was assumed that MRT scaled with BM(0.25) based on the isometric scaling of gut capacity (BM(1.0)) and allometric scaling of energy intake (BM(0.75)). Literature studies that tested this hypothesis produced conflicting results, arriving sometimes at higher or lower exponents than the postulated 0.25. This study was conducted with 8 ruminants (n=2-6 per species) and 6 hindgut fermenting species/breeds (n=2-6, warthog n=1) with a BM range of 60-4000 kg. All animals received a ration of 100% grass hay with ad libitum access. Dry matter intake was measured and the MRT was estimated by the use of a solute and a particle (1-2 mm) marker. No significant scaling of MRT(particle) with BM was observed for all herbivores (32 BM(0.04), p=0.518) and hindgut fermenters (32 BM(0.00), p=1.00). The scaling exponent for ruminants only showed a tendency towards significance (29 BM(0.12), p=0.071). Ruminants on average had an MRT(particle) 1.61-fold longer than hindgut fermenters. Whereas an exponent of 0.25 is reasonable from theoretical considerations, much lower exponents were found in this and other studies. The energetic benefit of increasing MRT is by no means continuous, since the energy released from a given food unit via digestion decreases over time. The low and non-significant scaling factors for both digestion types suggest that in ungulates, MRT is less influenced by BM (maximal allometric exponent ≤0.1) than often reported.

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