, Volume 107, Issue 2, pp 170-178

Nutritional ecology of dimorphic herbivores: digestion and passage rates in Nubian ibex

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Abstract

We compared forage digestion and passage rates among three groups of Nubian ibex (Capra ibex nubiana) — mature males, non-lactating females, and lactating females — to test hypotheses relating intraspecific digestive ability to body mass and reproduction costs. We hypothesized that large males (60 kg) would exhibit longer forage retention times and more complete digestion of fermentable cell walls than adult females (23 kg). We tested these predictions by measuring digestion and retention of a grass hay and an alfalfa hay, forages that exhibited contrasting rates and extents of cell wall digestion. Consistent with predictions, males retained both forages longer than non-lactating females. However, by substantially increasing gut fill, lactating females increased both intake and retention time with respect to non-lactating females. Contrary to predictions, all three groups digested the grass (66% digestible) and alfalfa hay (63%) equally well. Alfalfa cell wall was less digestible than that of grass hay (60% vs 69% digestible), and retention time of alfalfa was consistently, but not statistically significantly, shorter. Fiber digestion was not correlated with retention time, emphasizing the ability of behavioral processes to modify digestion rate. We postulate that females achieved their greater digestion rate by masticating forages much more thoroughly than males.