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Keywords:

  • herbivory;
  • hindgut fermenter;
  • caecum fermenter;
  • coprophagy;
  • cecotrophy;
  • rodent;
  • lagomorph

Summary

A colonic separation mechanism (CSM) is the prerequisite for the digestive strategy of coprophagy. Two different CSM are known in small herbivores, the ‘wash-back’ CSM of lagomorphs and the ‘mucous-trap’ CSM of rodents. Differences between these groups in their digestive pattern when fed exclusively hay were investigated in six rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and six guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus). Intake, digestibility (by total faecal collection), solute and particle mean retention times (MRT, using Co-EDTA and Cr-mordanted fibres) were measured. Rabbits selected less fibrous parts of the hay than guinea pigs, leaving orts with higher content of neutral detergent fibre [NDF; 721 ± 21 vs. 642 ± 31 g/kg dry matter (DM) in guinea pigs]. They also expressed a lower NDF digestibility (0.44 ± 0.10 vs. 0.55 ± 0.05 of total), a similar particle MRT (15 ± 3 vs. 18 ± 6 h), a longer solute MRT (51 ± 9 vs. 16 ± 4 h), and a lower calculated dry matter gut fill (19.6 ± 4.7 vs. 29.7 ± 4.1 g DM/kg body mass) than guinea pigs (p < 0.05 for each variable). These results support the assumption that the ‘wash-back’ CSM, exhibited in the rabbits, is more efficient in extracting bacterial matter from the colonic digesta plug than the ‘mucous-trap’ CSM found in the guinea pigs. Related to metabolic body mass, rabbits therefore need a less capacious colon for their CSM where a more efficient bacteria wash-out is reflected in the lower fibre digestibility. A lighter digestive tract could contribute to a peculiarity of lagomorphs: their ability to run faster than other similar-sized mammals.