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Studies of the metabolism, food consumption and assimilation efficiency of a small carnivore, the weasel (Mustela nivalis L.)

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Summary

The average respiratory quotient of weasels was 0.73. There were significant differences in average daily metabolic rate (ADMR) between the sexes and six experimental temperatures. As temperature decreased the mean ADMR increased, with a relatively greater rise for females. Regression equations of ADMR on temperature were Y=483.2–9.6X kcal/kg/day for males, and Y=625.3–15.0X kcal/kg/day for females. The minimum metabolic rate measured for males was 6.6 kcal/kg/h, and the maximum 25.7 kcal/kg/h. The relationship between ADMR and body weight varied with different temperatures, but was consistent with the hypothesis that ADMR was proportional to metabolic weight. The energetic costs of activity for my captive weasels were more than 20% of their daily total energy expenditure. Data on metabolism supported the conclusion that long, thin mustelids lose heat faster than normally-shaped mammals of the same weight.

The calorific contents of foods, faeces and urine from feeding trials were determined. There were significant differences in the calorific content of faeces between the sexes, and of faeces and urine between diets.

Four natural foods (Microtus, Apodemus, rabbit, starling) were offered during feeding trials. Daily food consumption varied between the diets, but small weasels always ate relatively more than large ones. Mean consumption was 0.33 g/g/day for males, and 0.36 g/g/day for females. Weasels on low-bulk diets (rabbit, starling) lost at least as much energy in urine as in faeces. There were significant differences in assimilation efficiency between the sexes and diets. The average efficiency for males was 78.2%, and 79.8% for females. Bulky foods lowered assimilation efficiencies by up to 9%.

Daily energy requirements for maintenance calculated from ADMR data were compared with those from feeding trials. On the Microtus diet weasels expended 18.6–30.1% more energy on maintenance than predicted by the ADMR results, whereas on the other diets they expended 2.7–31.4% less energy. Estimates from ADMR data were probably more accurate.

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Moors, P.J. Studies of the metabolism, food consumption and assimilation efficiency of a small carnivore, the weasel (Mustela nivalis L.). Oecologia 27, 185–202 (1977). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00347466

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