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Is gastrointestinal plasticity in king quail (Coturnix chinensis) elicited by diet-fibre or diet-energy dilution?

ABSTRACT

Phenotypic plasticity of organ size allows some animals to manage fluctuations of resource quality or availability. Here, we examined the phenotypic plasticity of the gastrointestinal tract of king quail (Coturnix chinensis) in a diet-fibre manipulation study. Quail were offered either a control low-fibre (high-quality) food (8.5% neutral-detergent fibre; NDF), or one of two experimental diets of higher fibre contents of 16% NDF (i.e. low-quality food). To examine whether phenotypic plasticity of organ size was associated with the fibre content per se, or as a consequence of diluting the diet energy contents by adding fibre, one of the high-fibre feeds was 'balanced' with additional energy to match that of the low-fibre control diet. Total empty dry mass of the gastrointestinal tract was significantly heavier among birds offered the unbalanced high-fibre diet as compared with those offered the control diet, with birds offered the fibrous but energy-balanced diet having guts of intermediate size. The heavier entire-gut mass (dry) of quail offered the unbalanced high-fibre diet was associated mainly with these birds having significantly heavier gizzards. Notably, the larger gizzard in the birds offered the unbalanced high-fibre diet was associated with marked increases in their metabolisability (digestion) of diet fibre. Our findings suggest that the available energy in the diet may be more important for eliciting phenotypic changes in the gut of these herbivorous birds rather than simple physical effects of diet fibre on feed intakes or on muscular compensation to fibrous ingesta.