Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 177, Issue 5, pp 509–518 | Cite as

Effects of diet quality on phenotypic flexibility of organ size and digestive function in Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus)

Original Paper


In the context of evolution and ecology, there is a trade-off between the benefits of processing food through a digestive system with specific phenotypic attributes and the cost of maintaining and carrying the digestive system. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that digestive modulations at several levels can match each other to meet the energy and nutrient demands of Mongolian gerbils, a small granivorous rodent species, by acclimating them to a high-quality diet diluted with alfalfa powder. Mongolian gerbils on the diluted diet maintained metabolizable energy intake by an integrated processing response (IPR), which included increases in dry matter intake, gut capacity and rate of digesta passage after 2-weeks of acclimation. Down-regulation of hydrolytic enzyme activity in the intestinal brush-border membrane supported the adaptive modulation hypothesis. The absence of up-modulation of summed enzyme hydrolytic capacity on the diluted diet indicated that greater mass of small intestine on a high-fibre diet is not a direct indicator of digestive or absorptive capacity. Changes in mass of vital organs and carcass suggested that the amount of energy allocated to various organs and hence physiological functions was regulated in response to diet shift.


Adaptive modulation hypotheses Integrated processing response (IPR) Mongolian gerbils Gastrointestinal tract Sucrase Maltase Aminopeptidase-N Metabolizable energy intake Vital organs 



We thank Professor Ian D Hume and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions for improving the manuscript.Thanks to Dr. T Derting for reading an earlier draft of this manuscript and improving the English expression. We are grateful to Zhao Zhi-Jun and Jing Bo-Bin for their help with animal care and dissection and to Professor Enrique Caviedes-Vidal for his help for assaying enzyme activity. This work was partly supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 30430140 and 30570230) to DHW and the CAS Innovative Research International Partnership Project (CXTDS2005-4).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management for Pest Insects and Rodents, Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Guangdong Key Laboratory of Integrated Pest Management in AgricultureGuangdong Entomological InstituteGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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