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In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection

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Abstract
Sauropod dinosaurs, the dominant herbivores throughout the Jurassic, challenge general rules of large vertebrate herbivory. With body weights surpassing those of any other megaherbivore, they relied almost exclusively on pre-angiosperm plants such as gymnosperms, ferns and fern allies as food sources, plant groups that are generally believed to be of very low nutritional quality. However, the nutritive value of these taxa is virtually unknown, despite their importance in the reconstruction of the ecology of Mesozoic herbivores. Using a feed evaluation test for extant herbivores, we show that the energy content of horsetails and of certain conifers and ferns is at a level comparable to extant browse. Based on our experimental results, plants such as Equisetum, Araucaria, Ginkgo and Angiopteris would have formed a major part of sauropod diets, while cycads, tree ferns and podocarp conifers would have been poor sources of energy. Energy-rich but slow-fermenting Araucaria, which was globally distributed in the Jurassic, was probably targeted by giant, high-browsing sauropods with their presumably very long ingesta retention times. Our data make possible a more realistic calculation of the daily food intake of an individual sauropod and improve our understanding of how large herbivorous dinosaurs could have flourished in pre-angiosperm ecosystems.
Keywords
Mesozoic food plants, herbivorous dinosaurs, herbivory, GAS-PRODUCTION, DINOSAURS, REQUIREMENTS, HERBIVORES, VEGETATION, PHYSIOLOGY, EVOLUTION, ANIMALS, GRASSES, QUALITY nutrition

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Chicago
Hummel, Jürgen, Carole T Gee, Karl-Heinz Südekum, P Martin Sander, Gunther Nogge, and Marcus Clauss. 2008. “In Vitro Digestibility of Fern and Gymnosperm Foliage: Implications for Sauropod Feeding Ecology and Diet Selection.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B-biological Sciences 275 (1638): 1015–1021.
APA
Hummel, J., Gee, C. T., Südekum, K.-H., Sander, P. M., Nogge, G., & Clauss, M. (2008). In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 275(1638), 1015–1021.
Vancouver
1.
Hummel J, Gee CT, Südekum K-H, Sander PM, Nogge G, Clauss M. In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES. 2008;275(1638):1015–21.
MLA
Hummel, Jürgen, Carole T Gee, Karl-Heinz Südekum, et al. “In Vitro Digestibility of Fern and Gymnosperm Foliage: Implications for Sauropod Feeding Ecology and Diet Selection.” PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES 275.1638 (2008): 1015–1021. Print.
@article{684816,
  abstract     = {Sauropod dinosaurs, the dominant herbivores throughout the Jurassic, challenge general rules of large vertebrate herbivory. With body weights surpassing those of any other megaherbivore, they relied almost exclusively on pre-angiosperm plants such as gymnosperms, ferns and fern allies as food sources, plant groups that are generally believed to be of very low nutritional quality. However, the nutritive value of these taxa is virtually unknown, despite their importance in the reconstruction of the ecology of Mesozoic herbivores. Using a feed evaluation test for extant herbivores, we show that the energy content of horsetails and of certain conifers and ferns is at a level comparable to extant browse. Based on our experimental results, plants such as Equisetum, Araucaria, Ginkgo and Angiopteris would have formed a major part of sauropod diets, while cycads, tree ferns and podocarp conifers would have been poor sources of energy. Energy-rich but slow-fermenting Araucaria, which was globally distributed in the Jurassic, was probably targeted by giant, high-browsing sauropods with their presumably very long ingesta retention times. Our data make possible a more realistic calculation of the daily food intake of an individual sauropod and improve our understanding of how large herbivorous dinosaurs could have flourished in pre-angiosperm ecosystems.},
  author       = {Hummel, J{\"u}rgen and Gee, Carole T and S{\"u}dekum, Karl-Heinz and Sander, P Martin and Nogge, Gunther and Clauss, Marcus},
  issn         = {0962-8452},
  journal      = {PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1638},
  pages        = {1015--1021},
  title        = {In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2007.1728},
  volume       = {275},
  year         = {2008},
}

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