Rumen microbes and fermentation of wild sika deer on the Shiretoko peninsula of Hokkaido Island, Japan

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A total of 32 wild Hokkaido sika deer (Cervus nippon yesoensis) were shot (13 in summer, nine in autumn and 10 in winter) in the Syari district, Shiretoko Peninsula of Hokkaido Island, Japan. The ingested foods, rumen fermentation parameters and microbes were determined to evaluate digestive strategy and food availability in each season. Ingested foods and ruminal characteristics greatly varied by season. Rumen digesta mainly comprised of graminoids in summer, graminoids and agricultural products in autumn, and bark and twigs in winter. Rumen pH showed seasonal differences (P < 0.05) and was lowest in summer, highest in winter, and intermediate in autumn, reflecting the seasonal differences in ruminal concentration of total volatile fatty acids which were significantly lower (P < 0.05) in winter than in summer and autumn. Acetate proportions were significantly higher in winter than in other seasons (P < 0.05), while the opposite trend was seen in proportions of propionate and butyrate. Rumen ammonia levels showed significant seasonal differences (P < 0.05), decreasing from summer to autumn to winter. Rumen protozoa levels in autumn and winter decreased to 28 and 10% of the levels observed in summer, respectively (P < 0.05 for both). The rumen bacteria level in winter was lower (P < 0.05) than that in autumn, but no difference was seen for the other seasonal comparisons. Gram negative cocci were present in significantly higher proportions in winter than in other seasons (P < 0.05), while Gram negative curved rods were less frequently observed in winter (P < 0.05). Based on these results, wild sika deer in this area are shown to survive with rumen microbial populations altered with the dietary conditions that vary greatly by season.

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