Effects of Acacia condensed tannins on urinary parameters, body mass, and diet choice of an Acacia specialist rodent, Thallomys nigricauda

Downs C.T. ; McDonald P.M. ; Brown K. ; Ward D. (2003)


The aim of this study was to investigate the dietary and physiological effects of condensed tannin ingestion on foregut fermenters, using Thallomys nigricauda, a folivorous rodent, as a model. We initially investigated the variability in physiological parameters, such as daily body mass (DMb), daily feed intake, daily fecal energy loss (FE), daily energy intake (DEI), daily urine pH, and daily urinary ammonia and urea concentrations, in response to different diets with low condensed tannin levels. This experiment was conducted to identify which physiological variables showed the least variation in the absence of tannin. In a second experiment, we investigated the response of the same dietary and physiological parameters to the effects of high dietary condensed tannin ingestion in T. nigricauda. We hypothesized that DMb, daily feed intake, FE, and DEI of T. nigricauda would be adversely affected by high dietary tannin content. We predicted that detoxification activity by T. nigricauda would increase at higher tannin levels. Ingestion of tannins affected the nutritional status of T. nigricauda, as shown by a decrease in body mass at high tannin levels. We also found that fewer ammonium ions were excreted in the urine by T. nigricauda, as would be expected if this were a means of regulating metabolic acidosis. The urine produced was more alkaline. This result indicates that T. nigricauda is not metabolizing these allelochemicals. Urea production was initially reduced, indicating conservation of bicarbonate ions that will neutralize blood acidity if there is detoxification. A diet choice experiment showed that tree rats avoid high tannin diets, even to the extent that they lose body mass on an alternative diet. This last-mentioned result is noteworthy because previous studies of the effects of tannins on herbivorous mammals have shown that there is physiological control rather than behavioral avoidance of the negative effects of tannin ingestion.

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