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Comparative digesta retention patterns in ratites


Frei, Samuel; Ortmann, Sylvia; Reutlinger, Christoph; Kreuzer, Michael; Hatt, Jean-Michel; Clauss, Marcus (2015). Comparative digesta retention patterns in ratites. The Auk, 132(1):119-131.

Abstract

Ratites differ distinctively in the anatomy of their digestive tract. For example, Ostriches (Struthio camelus) have a particularly long, voluminous colon and long paired caeca, Rheas (Rhea spp.) are characterised by a short colon with particularly prominent paired caeca, and Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) – have neither very prominent caeca nor a prominent colon. We tested whether digesta excretion patterns corresponded to these differences in anatomy, expecting Ostriches to have the longest and Emus the shortest digesta retention times, and Rheas possibly showing a selective retention of fluids observed in other birds and mammals with prominent caeca. We used 6 Ostriches (97-123kg), 5 Greater Rheas (R. americana, 22-27kg) and 2 Emus (32-34kg) fed a common diet of alfalfa pellets ad libitum in captivity. Intake per unit of metabolic body mass did not differ between Ostriches and Rheas but was significantly higher in Emus, which also displayed higher defecation frequencies and lower fiber digestibility. Mean digesta retention time for small fiber particles (2 mm) differed significantly among species (Ostrich: 30-36h; Rhea: 7-19h; Emu: 1.3-1.8h), but there were no differences between the retention of 2 mm or 8 mm particles or a solute marker within species. The shape of the marker excretion curves corresponded to digesta mixing in the digestive tract of Ostriches and Rheas but not Emus. The calculated dry matter gut fill (% of body mass) was significantly higher in Ostriches (1.6-1.8) than Rheas (0.3-1.0) and Emus (0.2). Ostriches had the highest, and Emus the lowest fecal dry matter concentration. These physiological findings match the differences in digestive anatomy and support the concept that in ratites, herbivory – and hence flightlessness – evolved repeatedly in different ways.

Abstract

Ratites differ distinctively in the anatomy of their digestive tract. For example, Ostriches (Struthio camelus) have a particularly long, voluminous colon and long paired caeca, Rheas (Rhea spp.) are characterised by a short colon with particularly prominent paired caeca, and Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) – have neither very prominent caeca nor a prominent colon. We tested whether digesta excretion patterns corresponded to these differences in anatomy, expecting Ostriches to have the longest and Emus the shortest digesta retention times, and Rheas possibly showing a selective retention of fluids observed in other birds and mammals with prominent caeca. We used 6 Ostriches (97-123kg), 5 Greater Rheas (R. americana, 22-27kg) and 2 Emus (32-34kg) fed a common diet of alfalfa pellets ad libitum in captivity. Intake per unit of metabolic body mass did not differ between Ostriches and Rheas but was significantly higher in Emus, which also displayed higher defecation frequencies and lower fiber digestibility. Mean digesta retention time for small fiber particles (2 mm) differed significantly among species (Ostrich: 30-36h; Rhea: 7-19h; Emu: 1.3-1.8h), but there were no differences between the retention of 2 mm or 8 mm particles or a solute marker within species. The shape of the marker excretion curves corresponded to digesta mixing in the digestive tract of Ostriches and Rheas but not Emus. The calculated dry matter gut fill (% of body mass) was significantly higher in Ostriches (1.6-1.8) than Rheas (0.3-1.0) and Emus (0.2). Ostriches had the highest, and Emus the lowest fecal dry matter concentration. These physiological findings match the differences in digestive anatomy and support the concept that in ratites, herbivory – and hence flightlessness – evolved repeatedly in different ways.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:05 Vetsuisse Faculty > Veterinary Clinic > Department of Small Animals
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
630 Agriculture
Date:2015
Deposited On:17 Nov 2014 16:13
Last Modified:09 Oct 2016 06:26
Publisher:American Ornithologists' Union
ISSN:0004-8038
Funders:SNF, Basle Foundation of Zoological Research
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1642/AUK-14-144.1

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