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1.  Methane Emission by Camelids 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94363.
Methane emissions from ruminant livestock have been intensively studied in order to reduce contribution to the greenhouse effect. Ruminants were found to produce more enteric methane than other mammalian herbivores. As camelids share some features of their digestive anatomy and physiology with ruminants, it has been proposed that they produce similar amounts of methane per unit of body mass. This is of special relevance for countrywide greenhouse gas budgets of countries that harbor large populations of camelids like Australia. However, hardly any quantitative methane emission measurements have been performed in camelids. In order to fill this gap, we carried out respiration chamber measurements with three camelid species (Vicugna pacos, Lama glama, Camelus bactrianus; n = 16 in total), all kept on a diet consisting of food produced from alfalfa only. The camelids produced less methane expressed on the basis of body mass (0.32±0.11 L kg−1 d−1) when compared to literature data on domestic ruminants fed on roughage diets (0.58±0.16 L kg−1 d−1). However, there was no significant difference between the two suborders when methane emission was expressed on the basis of digestible neutral detergent fiber intake (92.7±33.9 L kg−1 in camelids vs. 86.2±12.1 L kg−1 in ruminants). This implies that the pathways of methanogenesis forming part of the microbial digestion of fiber in the foregut are similar between the groups, and that the lower methane emission of camelids can be explained by their generally lower relative food intake. Our results suggest that the methane emission of Australia's feral camels corresponds only to 1 to 2% of the methane amount produced by the countries' domestic ruminants and that calculations of greenhouse gas budgets of countries with large camelid populations based on equations developed for ruminants are generally overestimating the actual levels.
PMCID: PMC3981797  PMID: 24718604
3.  Trace Element Distribution in Selected Edible Tissues of Zebu (Bos indicus) Cattle Slaughtered at Jimma, SW Ethiopia 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85300.
The amount of trace elements present in edible bovine tissues is of importance for both animal health and human nutrition. This study presents data on trace element concentrations in semitendinosus and cardiac muscles, livers and kidneys of 60 zebu (Bos indicus) bulls, sampled at Jimma, Ethiopia. From 28 of these bulls, blood samples were also obtained. Deficient levels of copper were found in plasma, livers, kidneys and semitendinosus muscles. Suboptimal selenium concentrations were found in plasma and semitendinosus muscles. Semitendinosus muscles contained high iron concentrations. Trace elements were mainly stored in the liver, except for iron and selenium. Cardiac muscles generally contained higher concentrations of trace elements than semitendinous muscles except for zinc. A strong association was found between liver and kidney concentrations of copper, iron, cobalt and molybdenum. Liver storage was well correlated with storage in semitendinosus muscle for selenium and with cardiac muscle for cobalt and selenium. Plasma concentrations of copper, selenium, cobalt were well related with their respective liver concentrations and for cobalt and selenium, also with cardiac muscle concentrations. The data suggest multiple trace element deficiencies in zebu cattle in South-West Ethiopia, with lowered tissue concentrations as a consequence. Based on the comparison of our data with other literature, trace element concentrations in selected edible tissues of Bos indicus seem quite similar to those in Bos taurus. However, tissue threshold values for deficiency in Bos taurus cattle need to be refined and their applicability for Bos indicus cattle needs to be evaluated.
PMCID: PMC3897408  PMID: 24465529
4.  Detecting Inter-Cusp and Inter-Tooth Wear Patterns in Rhinocerotids 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e80921.
Extant rhinos are the largest extant herbivores exhibiting dietary specialisations for both browse and grass. However, the adaptive value of the wear-induced tooth morphology in rhinos has not been widely studied, and data on individual cusp and tooth positions have rarely been published. We evaluated upper cheek dentition of browsing Diceros bicornis and Rhinoceros sondaicus, mixed-feeding R. unicornis and grazing Ceratotherium simum using an extended mesowear method adapted for rhinos. We included single cusp scoring (EM(R)-S) to investigate inter-cusp and inter-tooth wear patterns. In accordance with previous reports, general mesowear patterns in D. bicornis and R. sondaicus were attrition-dominated and C. simum abrasion-dominated, reflecting their respective diets. Mesowear patterns for R. unicornis were more attrition-dominated than anticipated by the grass-dominated diet, which may indicate a low intake of environmental abrasives. EM(R)-S increased differentiation power compared to classical mesowear, with significant inter-cusp and inter-tooth differences detected. In D. bicornis, the anterior cusp was consistently more abrasion-dominated than the posterior. Wear differences in cusp position may relate to morphological adaptations to dietary regimes. Heterogeneous occlusal surfaces may facilitate the comminution of heterogeneous browse, whereas uniform, broad grinding surfaces may enhance the comminution of physically more homogeneous grass. A negative tooth wear gradient was found in D. bicornis, R. sondaicus and R. unicornis, with wear patterns becoming less abrasion-dominated from premolars to molars. No such gradients were evident in C. simum which displayed a uniform wear pattern. In browsers, premolars may be exposed to higher relative grit loads, which may result in the development of wear gradients. The second premolar may also have a role in food cropping. In grazers, high absolute amounts of ingested abrasives may override other signals, leading to a uniform wear pattern and dental function along the tooth row, which could relate to the observed evolution towards homodonty.
PMCID: PMC3849094  PMID: 24312507
5.  Ecological Interactions in Dinosaur Communities: Influences of Small Offspring and Complex Ontogenetic Life Histories 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77110.
Because egg-laying meant that even the largest dinosaurs gave birth to very small offspring, they had to pass through multiple ontogenetic life stages to adulthood. Dinosaurs’ successors as the dominant terrestrial vertebrate life form, the mammals, give birth to live young, and have much larger offspring and less complex ontogenetic histories. The larger number of juveniles in dinosaur as compared to mammal ecosystems represents both a greater diversity of food available to predators, and competitors for similar-sized individuals of sympatric species. Models of population abundances across different-sized species of dinosaurs and mammals, based on simulated ecological life tables, are employed to investigate how differences in predation and competition pressure influenced dinosaur communities. Higher small- to medium-sized prey availability leads to a normal body mass-species richness (M-S) distribution of carnivorous dinosaurs (as found in the theropod fossil record), in contrast to the right-skewed M-S distribution of carnivorous mammals (as found living members of the order Carnivora). Higher levels of interspecific competition leads to a left-skewed M-S distribution in herbivorous dinosaurs (as found in sauropods and ornithopods), in contrast to the normal M-S distribution of large herbivorous mammals. Thus, our models suggest that differences in reproductive strategy, and consequently ontogeny, explain observed differences in community structure between dinosaur and mammal faunas. Models also show that the largest dinosaurian predators could have subsisted on similar-sized prey by including younger life stages of the largest herbivore species, but that large predators likely avoided prey much smaller than themselves because, despite predicted higher abundances of smaller than larger-bodied prey, contributions of small prey to biomass intake would be insufficient to satisfy meat requirements. A lack of large carnivores feeding on small prey exists in mammals larger than 21.5 kg, and it seems a similar minimum prey-size threshold could have affected dinosaurs as well.
PMCID: PMC3812983  PMID: 24204749
6.  Herbivory and Body Size: Allometries of Diet Quality and Gastrointestinal Physiology, and Implications for Herbivore Ecology and Dinosaur Gigantism 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e68714.
Digestive physiology has played a prominent role in explanations for terrestrial herbivore body size evolution and size-driven diversification and niche differentiation. This is based on the association of increasing body mass (BM) with diets of lower quality, and with putative mechanisms by which a higher BM could translate into a higher digestive efficiency. Such concepts, however, often do not match empirical data. Here, we review concepts and data on terrestrial herbivore BM, diet quality, digestive physiology and metabolism, and in doing so give examples for problems in using allometric analyses and extrapolations. A digestive advantage of larger BM is not corroborated by conceptual or empirical approaches. We suggest that explanatory models should shift from physiological to ecological scenarios based on the association of forage quality and biomass availability, and the association between BM and feeding selectivity. These associations mostly (but not exclusively) allow large herbivores to use low quality forage only, whereas they allow small herbivores the use of any forage they can physically manage. Examples of small herbivores able to subsist on lower quality diets are rare but exist. We speculate that this could be explained by evolutionary adaptations to the ecological opportunity of selective feeding in smaller animals, rather than by a physiologic or metabolic necessity linked to BM. For gigantic herbivores such as sauropod dinosaurs, other factors than digestive physiology appear more promising candidates to explain evolutionary drives towards extreme BM.
PMCID: PMC3812987  PMID: 24204552
7.  Ontogenetic niche shifts in dinosaurs influenced size, diversity and extinction in terrestrial vertebrates 
Biology Letters  2012;8(4):620-623.
Given the physiological limits to egg size, large-bodied non-avian dinosaurs experienced some of the most extreme shifts in size during postnatal ontogeny found in terrestrial vertebrate systems. In contrast, mammals—the other dominant vertebrate group since the Mesozoic—have less complex ontogenies. Here, we develop a model that quantifies the impact of size-specific interspecies competition on abundances of differently sized dinosaurs and mammals, taking into account the extended niche breadth realized during ontogeny among large oviparous species. Our model predicts low diversity at intermediate size classes (between approx. 1 and 1000 kg), consistent with observed diversity distributions of dinosaurs, and of Mesozoic land vertebrates in general. It also provides a mechanism—based on an understanding of different ecological and evolutionary constraints across vertebrate groups—that explains how mammals and birds, but not dinosaurs, were able to persist beyond the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) boundary, and how post-K–T mammals were able to diversify into larger size categories.
PMCID: PMC3391484  PMID: 22513279
allometry; body mass; Mesozoic vertebrates; size-specific competition
8.  Stable isotope series from elephant ivory reveal lifetime histories of a true dietary generalist 
Longitudinal studies have revealed how variation in resource use within consumer populations can impact their dynamics and functional significance in communities. Here, we investigate multi-decadal diet variations within individuals of a keystone megaherbivore species, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), using serial stable isotope analysis of tusks from the Kruger National Park, South Africa. These records, representing the longest continuous diet histories documented for any extant species, reveal extensive seasonal and annual variations in isotopic—and hence dietary—niches of individuals, but little variation between them. Lack of niche distinction across individuals contrasts several recent studies, which found relatively high levels of individual niche specialization in various taxa. Our result is consistent with theory that individual mammal herbivores are nutritionally constrained to maintain broad diet niches. Individual diet specialization would also be a costly strategy for large-bodied taxa foraging over wide areas in spatio-temporally heterogeneous environments. High levels of within-individual diet variability occurred within and across seasons, and persisted despite an overall increase in inferred C4 grass consumption through the twentieth century. We suggest that switching between C3 browsing and C4 grazing over extended time scales facilitates elephant survival through environmental change, and could even allow recovery of overused resources.
PMCID: PMC3350671  PMID: 22337695
C4 grass; Kruger National Park; time series; tusks
9.  Energy In-Equivalence in Australian Marsupials: Evidence for Disruption of the Continent’s Mammal Assemblage, or Are Rules Meant to Be Broken? 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57449.
The energy equivalence rule (EER) is a macroecological hypothesis that posits that total population energy use (PEU) should be independent of species body mass, because population densities and energy metabolisms scale with body mass in a directly inverse manner. However, evidence supporting the EER is equivocal, and the use of basal metabolic rate (BMR) in such studies has been questioned; ecologically-relevant indices like field metabolic rate (FMR) are probably more appropriate. In this regard, Australian marsupials present a novel test for the EER because, unlike eutherians, marsupial BMRs and FMRs scale differently with body mass. Based on either FMR or BMR, Australian marsupial PEU did not obey an EER, and scaled positively with body mass based on ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions. Importantly, the scaling of marsupial population density with body mass had a slope of −0.37, significantly shallower than the expected slope of −0.75, and not directly inverse of body-mass scaling exponents for BMR (0.72) or FMR (0.62). The findings suggest that the EER may not be a causal, universal rule, or that for reasons not yet clear, it is not operating for Australia’s unique native fauna.
PMCID: PMC3583869  PMID: 23460858
10.  Dietary Abrasiveness Is Associated with Variability of Microwear and Dental Surface Texture in Rabbits 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56167.
Dental microwear and 3D surface texture analyses are useful in reconstructing herbivore diets, with scratches usually interpreted as indicators of grass dominated diets and pits as indicators of browse. We conducted feeding experiments with four groups of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) each fed a different uniform, pelleted diet (lucerne, lucerne & oats, grass & oats, grass). The lowest silica content was measured in the lucerne and the highest in the grass diet. After 25 weeks of exposure to the diets, dental castings were made of the rabbit's lower molars. Occlusal surfaces were then investigated using dental microwear and 3D areal surface texture analysis. In terms of traditional microwear, we found our hypothesis supported, as the grass group showed a high proportion of (long) “scratches” and the lucerne group a high proportion of “pits”. Regardless of the uniform diets, variability of microwear and surface textures was higher when silica content was low. A high variability in microwear and texture analysis thus need not represent dietary diversity, but can also be related to a uniform, low-abrasion diet. The uniformity or variability of microwear/texture analysis results thus might represent varying degrees of abrasion and attrition rather than a variety of diet items per se.
PMCID: PMC3566079  PMID: 23405263
11.  Regurgitation and remastication in the foregut-fermenting proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):786-789.
Although foregut fermentation is often equated with rumination in the literature, functional ruminants (ruminants, camelids) differ fundamentally from non-ruminant foregut fermenters (e.g. macropods, hippos, peccaries). They combine foregut fermentation with a sorting mechanism that allows them to remasticate large particles and clear their foregut quickly of digested particles; thus, they do not only achieve high degrees of particle size reduction but also comparatively high food intakes. Regurgitation and remastication of stomach contents have been described sporadically in several non-ruminant, non-primate herbivores. However, this so-called ‘merycism’ apparently does not occur as consistently as in ruminants. Here, to our knowledge we report, for the first time, regurgitation and remastication in 23 free-ranging individuals of a primate species, the foregut-fermenting proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus). In one male that was observed continuously during 169 days, the behaviour was observed on 11 different days occurring mostly in the morning, and was associated with significantly higher proportions of daily feeding time than on days when it was not observed. This observation is consistent with the concept that intensified mastication allows higher food intake without compromising digestive efficiency, and represents an expansion of the known physiological primate repertoire that converges with a strategy usually associated with ruminants only.
PMCID: PMC3169055  PMID: 21450728
rumination; merycism; foregut fermentation; herbivory; food intake
12.  Mating system, feeding type and ex situ conservation effort determine life expectancy in captive ruminants 
Zoo animal husbandry aims at constantly improving husbandry, reproductive success and ultimately animal welfare. Nevertheless, analyses to determine factors influencing husbandry of different species are rare. The relative life expectancy (rLE; life expectancy (LE) as proportion of longevity) describes husbandry success of captive populations. Correlating rLE with biological characteristics of different species, reasons for variation in rLE can be detected. We analysed data of 166 901 animals representing 78 ruminant species kept in 850 facilities. The rLE of females correlated with the percentage of grass in a species' natural diet, suggesting that needs of species adapted to grass can be more easily accommodated than the needs of those adapted to browse. Males of monogamous species demonstrate higher rLE than polygamous males, which matches observed differences of sexual bias in LE in free-living populations and thus supports the ecological theory that the mating system influences LE. The third interesting finding was that rLE was higher in species managed by international studbooks when compared with species not managed in this way. Our method facilitates the identification of biological characteristics of species that are relevant for their husbandry success, and they also support ecological theory. Translating these findings into feeding recommendations, our approach can help to improve animal husbandry.
PMCID: PMC3107652  PMID: 21147792
animal husbandry; browser; artiodactyls; life expectancy; sexual bias; zoo
13.  Methane Output of Tortoises: Its Contribution to Energy Loss Related to Herbivore Body Mass 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17628.
An increase in body mass (M) is traditionally considered advantageous for herbivores in terms of digestive efficiency. However, recently increasing methane losses with increasing M were described in mammals. To test this pattern in non-mammal herbivores, we conducted feeding trails with 24 tortoises of various species (M range 0.52–180 kg) fed a diet of grass hay ad libitum and salad. Mean daily dry matter and gross energy intake measured over 30 consecutive days scaled to M0.75 (95%CI 0.64–0.87) and M0.77 (95%CI 0.66–0.88), respectively. Methane production was measured over two consecutive days in respiration chambers and scaled to M1.03 (95%CI 0.84–1.22). When expressed as energy loss per gross energy intake, methane losses scaled to 0.70 (95%CI 0.47–1.05) M0.29 (95%CI 0.14–0.45). This scaling overlaps in its confidence intervals to that calculated for nonruminant mammals 0.79 (95%CI 0.63–0.99) M0.15 (95%CI 0.09–0.20), but is lower than that for ruminants. The similarity between nonruminant mammals and tortoises suggest a common evolution of the gut fauna in ectotherms and endotherms, and that the increase in energetic losses due to methane production with increasing body mass is a general allometric principle in herbivores. These findings add evidence to the view that large body size itself does not necessarily convey a digestive advantage.
PMCID: PMC3052317  PMID: 21408074
14.  Biology of the sauropod dinosaurs: the evolution of gigantism 
The herbivorous sauropod dinosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were the largest terrestrial animals ever, surpassing the largest herbivorous mammals by an order of magnitude in body mass. Several evolutionary lineages among Sauropoda produced giants with body masses in excess of 50 metric tonnes by conservative estimates. With body mass increase driven by the selective advantages of large body size, animal lineages will increase in body size until they reach the limit determined by the interplay of bauplan, biology, and resource availability. There is no evidence, however, that resource availability and global physicochemical parameters were different enough in the Mesozoic to have led to sauropod gigantism.
We review the biology of sauropod dinosaurs in detail and posit that sauropod gigantism was made possible by a specific combination of plesiomorphic characters (phylogenetic heritage) and evolutionary innovations at different levels which triggered a remarkable evolutionary cascade. Of these key innovations, the most important probably was the very long neck, the most conspicuous feature of the sauropod bauplan. Compared to other herbivores, the long neck allowed more efficient food uptake than in other large herbivores by covering a much larger feeding envelope and making food accessible that was out of the reach of other herbivores. Sauropods thus must have been able to take up more energy from their environment than other herbivores.
The long neck, in turn, could only evolve because of the small head and the extensive pneumatization of the sauropod axial skeleton, lightening the neck. The small head was possible because food was ingested without mastication. Both mastication and a gastric mill would have limited food uptake rate. Scaling relationships between gastrointestinal tract size and basal metabolic rate (BMR) suggest that sauropods compensated for the lack of particle reduction with long retention times, even at high uptake rates.
The extensive pneumatization of the axial skeleton resulted from the evolution of an avian-style respiratory system, presumably at the base of Saurischia. An avian-style respiratory system would also have lowered the cost of breathing, reduced specific gravity, and may have been important in removing excess body heat. Another crucial innovation inherited from basal dinosaurs was a high BMR. This is required for fueling the high growth rate necessary for a multi-tonne animal to survive to reproductive maturity.
The retention of the plesiomorphic oviparous mode of reproduction appears to have been critical as well, allowing much faster population recovery than in megaherbivore mammals. Sauropods produced numerous but small offspring each season while land mammals show a negative correlation of reproductive output to body size. This permitted lower population densities in sauropods than in megaherbivore mammals but larger individuals.
Our work on sauropod dinosaurs thus informs us about evolutionary limits to body size in other groups of herbivorous terrestrial tetrapods. Ectothermic reptiles are strongly limited by their low BMR, remaining small. Mammals are limited by their extensive mastication and their vivipary, while ornithsichian dinosaurs were only limited by their extensive mastication, having greater average body sizes than mammals.
PMCID: PMC3045712  PMID: 21251189
Dinosauria; Sauropoda; gigantism; Mesozoic; long neck; phylogenetic heritage; evolutionary innovation
15.  Another one bites the dust: faecal silica levels in large herbivores correlate with high-crowned teeth 
The circumstances of the evolution of hypsodonty (= high-crowned teeth) are a bone of contention. Hypsodonty is usually linked to diet abrasiveness, either from siliceous phytoliths (monocotyledons) or from grit (dusty environments). However, any empirical quantitative approach testing the relation of ingested silica and hypsodonty is lacking. In this study, faecal silica content was quantified as acid detergent insoluble ash and used as proxy for silica ingested by large African herbivores of different digestive types, feeding strategies and hypsodonty levels. Separate sample sets were used for the dry (n = 15 species) and wet (n = 13 species) season. Average faecal silica contents were 17–46 g kg−1 dry matter (DM) for browsing and 52–163 g kg−1 DM for grazing herbivores. No difference was detected between the wet (97.5 ± 14.4 g kg−1 DM) and dry season (93.5 ± 13.7 g kg−1 DM) faecal silica. In a phylogenetically controlled analysis, a strong positive correlation (dry season r = 0.80, p < 0.0005; wet season r = 0.74, p < 0.005) was found between hypsodonty index and faecal silica levels. While surprisingly our results do not indicate major seasonal changes in silica ingested, the correlation of faecal silica and hypsodonty supports a scenario of a dominant role of abrasive silica in the evolution of high-crowned teeth.
PMCID: PMC3081769  PMID: 21068036
phytolith; grit; abrasiveness; hypsodonty
16.  Allometry of visceral organs in living amniotes and its implications for sauropod dinosaurs 
Allometric equations are often used to extrapolate traits in animals for which only body mass estimates are known, such as dinosaurs. One important decision can be whether these equations should be based on mammal, bird or reptile data. To address whether this choice will have a relevant influence on reconstructions, we compared allometric equations for birds and mammals from the literature to those for reptiles derived from both published and hitherto unpublished data. Organs studied included the heart, kidneys, liver and gut, as well as gut contents. While the available data indicate that gut content mass does not differ between the clades, the organ masses for reptiles are generally lower than those for mammals and birds. In particular, gut tissue mass is significantly lower in reptiles. When applying the results in the reconstruction of a sauropod dinosaur, the estimated volume of the coelomic cavity greatly exceeds the estimated volume of the combined organ masses, irrespective of the allometric equation used. Therefore, substantial deviation of sauropod organ allometry from that of the extant vertebrates can be allowed conceptually. Extrapolations of retention times from estimated gut contents mass and food intake do not suggest digestive constraints on sauropod dinosaur body size.
PMCID: PMC2660986  PMID: 19324837
allometry; scaling; coelomic cavity; ingesta retention; digestion; gut
17.  In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection 
Sauropod dinosaurs, the dominant herbivores throughout the Jurassic, challenge general rules of large vertebrate herbivory. With body weights surpassing those of any other megaherbivore, they relied almost exclusively on pre-angiosperm plants such as gymnosperms, ferns and fern allies as food sources, plant groups that are generally believed to be of very low nutritional quality. However, the nutritive value of these taxa is virtually unknown, despite their importance in the reconstruction of the ecology of Mesozoic herbivores. Using a feed evaluation test for extant herbivores, we show that the energy content of horsetails and of certain conifers and ferns is at a level comparable to extant browse. Based on our experimental results, plants such as Equisetum, Araucaria, Ginkgo and Angiopteris would have formed a major part of sauropod diets, while cycads, tree ferns and podocarp conifers would have been poor sources of energy. Energy-rich but slow-fermenting Araucaria, which was globally distributed in the Jurassic, was probably targeted by giant, high-browsing sauropods with their presumably very long ingesta retention times. Our data make possible a more realistic calculation of the daily food intake of an individual sauropod and improve our understanding of how large herbivorous dinosaurs could have flourished in pre-angiosperm ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC2600911  PMID: 18252667
herbivorous dinosaurs; Mesozoic food plants; herbivory; nutrition

Results 1-17 (17)