Nutritional value of moss for arctic ruminants: a test with muskoxen Academic Article uri icon


  • Although moss is commonly found in the feces of arctic herbivores, we do not know the digestible value of this forage for ruminants. We compared grass hay (Bromus sp.) with moss (Hy/ocomium splendent, Tomenthypnum nitens) from 2 locations in Alaska, USA: Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Fairbanks. We evaluated forages by digestion in ruminally fistulated muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) by suspending forages in polyester bags before and after the rumen was acclimated with moss for 15 consecutive days. Ruminal degradation was not affected by acclimation to moss. Hay lost dry matter during 48 hours of ruminal incubation (-49%), whereas moss gained dry matter (+44-57%). Incubated moss gained nitrogen (+435-680%), as well as fiber (+18%), and one moss gained ash (+121%). Mass gained by moss in the rumen was probably due to the combined effect of microbial colonization and adsorption of fibrous particles onto the sponge-like matrix. We evaluated postruminal degradation of forages by incubation in acid-pepsin. Ruminally incubated mosses lost little nitrogen in acid-pepsin even though ruminally incubated hay lost 23 % nitrogen on acid digestion. Consumption of moss during winter may be a net cost of selecting plants within moss communities when lichens and graminoids are scarce. Moss in feces may, therefore, indicate low availability of favored foods for muskoxen and other arctic ruminants that are confined to small winter ranges. Increasing concentrations of moss in the feces and, thus, the diet of muskoxen may alert wildlife managers to shifts in winter range quality or forage access due to changing snow conditions.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Ihl, C., & Barboza, P. S.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Ihl, Claudia||Barboza, Perry S

publication date

  • January 2007