More Challenging Diets Sustain Feeding Performance: Applications Toward the Captive Rearing of Wildlife

D. Rex Mitchell, Stephen Wroe, Matthew J. Ravosa, Rachel A. Menegaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The rescue and rehabilitation of young fauna is of substantial importance to conservation. However, it has been suggested that incongruous diets offered in captive environments may alter craniofacial morphology and hinder the success of reintroduced animals. Despite these claims, to what extent dietary variation throughout ontogeny impacts intrapopulation cranial biomechanics has not yet been tested. Here, finite element models were generated from the adult crania of 40 rats (n=10 per group) that were reared on 4 different diet regimes and stress magnitudes compared during incisor bite simulations. The diets consisted of (1) exclusively hard pellets from weaning, (2) exclusively soft ground pellet meal from weaning, (3) a juvenile switch from pellets to meal, and (4) a juvenile switch from meal to pellets. We hypothesized that a diet of exclusively soft meal would result in the weakest adult skulls, represented by significantly greater stress magnitudes at the muzzle, palate, and zygomatic arch. Our hypothesis was supported at the muzzle and palate, indicating that a diet limited to soft food inhibits bone deposition throughout ontogeny. This finding presents a strong case for a more variable and challenging diet during development. However, rather than the "soft" diet group resulting in the weakest zygomatic arch as predicted, this region instead showed the highest stress among rats that switched as juveniles from hard pellets to soft meal. We attribute this to a potential reduction in number and activity of osteoblasts, as demonstrated in studies of sudden and prolonged disuse of bone. A shift to softer foods in captivity, during rehabilitation after injury in the wild for example, can therefore be detrimental to healthy development of the skull in some growing animals, potentially increasing the risk of injury and impacting the ability to access full ranges of wild foods upon release.We suggest captive diet plans consider not just nutritional requirements but also food mechanical properties when rearing wildlife to adulthood for reintroduction.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberobab030
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative Organismal Biology
Volume3
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Captive Rearing
  • Wildlife
  • captive diet
  • craniofacial morphology

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