Postingestive Feedback as an Elementary Determinant of Food Preference and Intake in Ruminants

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Journal of Range Management

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Ruminants select nutritious diets from a diverse array of plant species that vary in kinds and concentrations of nutrients and toxins, and meet their nutritional requirements that vary with age, physiological state. and environmental conditions. Thus, ruminants possess a degree of nutritional wisdom in the sense that they generally select foods that meet nutritional needs and avoid foods that cause toxicosis. There is little reason to believe that nutritional wisdom occurs because animals can directly taste or smell either nutrients or toxins in foods. Instead, there is increasing evidence that neurally mediated interactions between the senses (i.e., taste and smell) and the viscera enable ruminants to sense the consequences of food ingestion, and these interactions operate in subtle but profound ways to affect food selection and intake, as well as the hedonic value of food. The sensation of being satisfied to the full (i.e., satiety) occurs when animals ingest adequate kinds and amounts of nutritious foods, and animals acquire preferences (mild to strong) for foods that cause satiety. Unpleasant feelings of physical discomfort (i.e., malaise) are caused by excesses of nutrients and toxins and by nutrient deficits, and animals acquire aversions (mild to strong) to foods that cause malaise. What constitutes excesses and deficits depends on each animal's morphology, physiology, and nutritional requirements. This does not mean that ruminants must maximize (optimize) intake of any particular nutrient or mix of nutrients within each meal or even on a daily basis, given that they can withstand departures from the normal average intake of nutrients (i.e., energy-rich substances, nitrogen, various minerals, and vitamins). Rather, hemostatic regulation needs only some increasing tendency, as a result of a gradually worsening deficit of some nutrient or of an excess of toxins or nutrients, to generate behavior to correct the disorder. Extreme states should cause herbivores to increase diet breadth and to acquire preferences for foods that rectify maladies. From an evolutionary standpoint, mechanisms that enable animals to experience feedback, sensations such as satiety and malaise, should be highly correlated with nutritional well being, toxicosis, and nutritional deficiencies, which are directly related with survival and reproduction.

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