• Digestibility;
  • gastro-intestinal size;
  • meadow voles;
  • prairie voles;
  • retention time

1. Two species of voles were fed high fibre (barnyard grass) and low fibre (alfalfa) diets to test the integrated processing response (IPR) hypothesis. This hypothesis states that many herbivores are able to maintain their required intake of digestible nutrients and energy on diets with very different fibre content because of compensatory changes in intake of food, size of gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, passage rates of fibre and absorptive capacity of the GI tract.

2. As predicted by the IPR hypothesis, each species of vole maintained a similar intake of digestible dry matter on the two different diets. Both species also had greater intake, larger GI size, shorter mean retention times and greater GI mass (an indicator of epithelial mass and absorptive capacity) when fed grass than when fed alfalfa.

3. The two species differed in that meadow voles, the more active species, had greater total intake and obtained a greater amount of digestible dry matter from either diet than did prairie voles. Meadow voles also consume more grass in the field than do prairie voles, and they digested grass better than did prairie voles. Prairie voles, which consume more dicots in the field, digested alfalfa better than did meadow voles.

4. Meadow voles had longer GI tracts, particularly small intestines, than did prairie voles, which may be linked to their greater ability to digest grass. However, meadow voles did not have larger caeca than prairie voles, even though caecal size increased on grass diets for both species. The GI size of prairie voles fed grass increased more than did the GI size of meadow voles, and this may have enabled prairie voles to utilize a grass diet, though they prefer to eat dicots. Greater selection of leaves, which have less fibre than stems, and longer mean retention times of food may account for better digestion of alfalfa by prairie voles.