Cold temperature improves tannin tolerance in a granivorous rodent

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The foraging ecology of mammalian herbivores is regulated in part by their ability to detoxify plant secondary metabolites (PSM). Ambient temperature has been shown to alter liver function in rodents and the toxicity of some PSMs, but little is known about the physiological and nutritional consequences of consuming PSMs at different ambient temperatures. Furthermore, the effect of ambient temperature on the response of mammals to the most ubiquitous class of PSM, tannins, is unknown.We measured the effect of temperature and tannin intake on liver function, and the subsequent effect on the tannin tolerance of wild Japanese wood mice, Apodemus speciosus. The experiment involved acclimation to one of two ambient temperatures (10°C or 20°C) followed by acclimation to a diet of acorns (6.2% tannin DW). Liver function was measured both before and after acclimation to acorns by measuring the clearance time of a hypnotic agent. Finally, the mice were fed only acorns in a 5-day feeding experiment to assess their tolerance to tannin in the diet.Acclimation to acorns had a significant effect on liver function, but the direction of this effect was dependent on ambient temperature. Acorn consumption improved the liver function of wood mice at 10°C, but reduced liver function at 20°C, revealing a complex relationship between ambient temperature and tannin intake on liver function. Furthermore, mice with better liver function, indicated by faster clearance of the hypnotic agent, exhibited higher protein digestibility on an acorn-only diet, indicative of higher tannin tolerance.These results suggest that environmental temperature plays a significant role in the tolerance of A. speciosus to tannins, providing new insight into their seasonal feeding behaviour and winter ecology. We contend that cold-induced tannin tolerance may help to explain the population dynamics of mammalian herbivores with seasonal changes in the tannin content of their diet, and inform predictions about the response of these animals to a changing climate.

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