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Is winter diet quality related to body condition of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)? An experiment using urine profiles

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During winter, boreal forest herbivores have access to only poor-quality forage. On Anticosti Island (Quebec, Canada), the ongoing reduction of balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill.) owing to overbrowsing by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus (Zimmermann, 1780)) may force deer to include a higher proportion of white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss), a browse normally avoided, in their winter diet. We tested the hypotheses that (i) deer body condition during winter and (ii) the costs of detoxification of plant secondary metabolites in the winter diet could be estimated by monitoring the 3-methylhistidine/creatinine and glucuronic acid/creatinine ratios, respectively, in urine collected in snow from white-tailed deer fawns. Doubling the amount of white spruce in the winter diet of deer (from the current 20% under natural conditions to 40%) did not increase 3-methylhistidine/creatinine ratios but increased the glucuronic acid/creatinine ratio in urine, suggesting that a diet containing more spruce was more toxic. A weak positive relationship was observed between 3-methylhistidine and percent cumulative mass loss. There was no relationship between the 3-methylhistidine/creatinine ratio and the number of days left before death, as well as no relationship between the ratio of glucuronic acid/creatinine and percent cumulative mass loss. We conclude that the costs of detoxification of plant secondary metabolites in the winter diet of white-tailed deer in boreal forests could be monitored with glucuronic acid/creatinine ratios, but that 3-methylhistidine/creatinine ratios were weak indicators of deer body condition in winter.

Durant l’hiver, les herbivores des forêts boréales se nourrissent de nourriture de faible qualité. Sur l’île d’Anticosti (Québec, Canada), la raréfaction graduelle du sapin baumier (Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill.) causée par le surbroutement du cerf de Virginie (Odocoileus virginianus (Zimmermann, 1780)) pourrait forcer ces derniers à ingérer en hiver plus d’épinette blanche (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss), une essence normalement évitée. Nous avons testé les hypothèses selon lesquelles (i) la détérioration de la condition corporelle des cerfs en hiver et (ii) les coûts de la détoxication des produits métaboliques secondaires des plantes dans l’alimentation d’hiver pouvaient être estimés par l’analyse de l’évolution des rapports 3-méthylhistidine/créatinine et acide glucuronique/créatinine, respectivement, dans l’urine de faons récoltée dans la neige. Doubler la proportion d’épinette blanche dans l’alimentation d’hiver (de 20 % en conditions naturelles à 40 %) n’a pas affecté le rapport 3-méthylhistidine/créatinine, mais a augmenté le rapport acide glucuronique/créatinine dans l’urine, suggérant qu’une alimentation plus riche en épinette blanche est plus toxique. Une faible relation positive a été observée entre la 3-méthylhistidine et le pourcentage cumulatif de perte de masse. La concentration de 3-méthylhistidine n’a pas augmenté quelques jours avant la mort. Aucune relation entre le rapport acide glucuronique:créatinine et le pourcentage cumulatif de perte de masse n’a été observée. Nous concluons que les coûts de détoxication des produits secondaires dans la diète hivernale des cerfs de Virginie de la forêt boréale peuvent être étudiés à l’aide du rapport acide glucuronique:créatinine, mais que le rapport 3-méthylhistidine/créatinine est un indicateur de faible qualité de la condition corporelle des cerfs en hiver.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-07-01

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