Retention of solutes and particles in the gastrointestinal tract of a grazing cervid: Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

  • Jill Derix
  • Sylvia Ortmann
  • Lisa Wiegmann
  • Arne Lawrenz
  • Geert Paul Jules Janssens
  • Marcus ClaussEmail author
Original Article


Ruminants are classified into three groups, according to their feeding behaviour: browsers, intermediate feeders and grazers. Corresponding to their dietary preferences, multiple morphological and physiological adaptations have been described, resulting in another classification: ‘moose-type’ and ‘cattle-type’ ruminants. Digesta retention patterns in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and reticulorumen (RR) are considered major criteria to distinguish these types, as cattle-type ruminants show shorter retention of fluids (measured by a solute marker) than of particles, while in moose-type ruminants, both are retained for more similar periods. To what extent these digestive types are specific to phylogenetic lineages is still unclear. We measured mean retention times (MRTs) of solutes and particles (2 and 20 mm) in the strictest grazing cervid: the Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus; n = 5; body mass = 155.0 ± 14.5 kg). The MRTs of solutes, small and large particles in the GIT were 34 ± 4, 60 ± 7 and 69 ± 9 h, respectively. The ratio of the MRT of small particles versus solutes in the RR was 2.0 ± 0.1, similar to other cattle-type ruminants. The results confirm the hypothesis that Père David’s deer can be classified as cattle-type ruminants, corresponding to both dietary preferences and previously described morphological traits. The results complement previous findings, showing that both cattle-type and moose-type physiologies are found among bovids as well as cervids, indicating that these digestion types can be considered convergent adaptations.


Browser-grazer dichotomy Digestive physiology Père David’s deer Reticulorumen Selectivity factor 



We thank Heidrun Barleben for the marker analyses and Herman de Rycke for the analyses on nutrition and faeces. We also thank the zookeepers of Zoo Wuppertal for support and assistance in the handling of the animals, particularly the following: Jürgen Abend, Frank Soumagne, Andrea Becker, Boris Kostka, Jörg Effenberger, Kevin Büttner, Roland Stöter and Malena Reeh. Furthermore, special thanks to veterinary nurses Laura Cyrener and Katrin Gries, and zoo curators Silja Herberg and Severin Dressen, and three reviewers for comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nutrition, Genetics and Ethology, Faculty of Veterinary MedicineGhent UniversityMerelbekeBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Pathology, Bacteriology and Avian diseases, Faculty of Veterinary MedicineGhent UniversityMerelbekeBelgium
  3. 3.Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)BerlinGermany
  4. 4.Zoological Garden WuppertalWuppertalGermany
  5. 5.Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife, Vetsuisse FacultyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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