Large ruminants respond to changing plant phenology during winter by decreasing voluntary food intake, increasing gut passage time and utilizing body fat reserves. It is uncertain, however, how other large mammals with a non-ruminant digestive physiology cope with winter forage conditions. Therefore, we investigated seasonality of energy intake in a large herbivorous wild mammal, the Przewalski horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). Throughout all seasons we used the n-alkane method to measure daily dry matter intake (DMI), diet composition and digestion, and determined an index of gut passage time in horses living under close to natural conditions. DMI correlated positively with its content of crude protein and nitrogen-free extract. Independent of these effects, DMI further varied seasonally with a peak in autumn and a nadir in late winter. Fluctuations of DMI corresponded to the annual change in body condition, which decreased during winter while energy reserves were depleted, and increased during the fattening period. Gut passage time varied in the course of the year and was longer during winter when the diet was high in crude fibre. Nevertheless, changes in gut passage time occurred rather independently of changes in forage composition and DMI, suggesting endogenous control for timely adaption of the digestive strategy to meet predictable changes in forage quality.
Animals Animals, Wild/physiology* Diet Dietary Fiber/administration & dosage Digestion Energy Intake* Energy Metabolism* Female Horses/physiology* Male Nutritional Status Seasons*