, Volume 177, Issue 8, pp 849-855
Date: 13 Jul 2007

Separate effects of macronutrient concentration and balance on plastic gut responses in locusts

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It is well established that animal guts are phenotypically plastic, adjusting inter-alia to diet quality. However, the relative contributions due to the two principal dimensions of diet “quality”—nutrient concentration and nutrient balance—remain to be teased apart. We report an experiment using synthetic foods in which the balance and overall concentration (in relation to indigestible cellulose) of protein and digestible carbohydrate were varied orthogonally, and the effects on the dry mass of locust guts measured. There were three principal results: (1) larger guts were associated with dilute compared with concentrated diets, suggesting a compensatory response to ameliorate the impact of reduced diet quality; (2) there was, by contrast, an anti-compensatory response to nutrient imbalance, where larger guts were associated with surplus protein intake; (3) the experimental group given the food that contained low protein and low cellulose, the composition that predicted the smallest guts, showed a bimodal response in which half of the insects had guts that were larger than expected for their cellulose intake, suggesting that they were able to respond to a protein-related cue in the absence of significant dietary fibre. We discuss these results in relation to regulatory theory.

Communicated by I.D. Hume.