Little is known about the effect of age on digestive processes in wild cervids. One potentially important mechanism is that tooth wear alters the occlusal surface topography, causing gradual loss of functionality. Mastication efficiency is crucial to digestion processes among ruminants, as a larger particle size is associated with longer retention times and potentially reduced digestion efficiency. Using data from 49 adult Svalbard reindeer Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus females, we investigated whether the mass of reticulo-rumen (RR) contents and tissue and the amount of back fat showed age-related changes. Older animals had higher RR content mass than younger individuals. This is consistent with the prediction that altered particle size due to decreased mastication efficiency led to increased rumen retention time either through increased RR capacity or filling. Additional data on RR particle size distribution were available for a subset (n=30). The correlation between the proportion of small particles (<1.0 mm) and RR contents was much weaker than the correlation between age and RR contents. This suggests that additional factors apart from particle size contribute to the age-related pattern in RR content mass. The mass of RR tissue in older animals was higher than that in younger animals. This possibly reflects an adaptation to the higher organ fill. The amount of back fat decreased with age, suggesting that alterations in digestion-related processes are not sufficient to compensate for reduced mastication efficiency in Svalbard reindeer. Our results present one possible link between foraging, digestive processes and life-history patterns.
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