Seasonal hyperphagia does not reduce digestive efficiency in an Arctic grazer. Academic Article uri icon


  • Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) consume fibrous plants that grow rapidly over the short Arctic summer. We studied responses of eight castrated male muskoxen to a diet of grass hay and mineral supplements during spring, autumn, and winter. Animals gained body mass in spring (239+/-39 kg) as body fat content increased from 26% to 38% of ingesta-free mass in winter without changes in lean mass and protein. Intakes of dry matter (DM) increased by 74% between spring and autumn as digestible energy increased from 554 to 923 kJ kg(-0.75) d(-1) during mass gain. Digestibility of cellulose (72%-76%) was not affected by increasing food intake between spring and autumn but was reduced to 65% in winter. Digestibility of nitrogen compounds was 61%-66%, even though intake increased by 134% between spring and autumn. Excess dietary nitrogen from hay and supplements increased urea concentrations in plasma and urine. High loads of solutes such as potassium did not affect plasma or urinary osmolality but were associated with increased rates of glomerular filtration and urinary excretion. Low intakes of sodium from grasses may limit intake and digestion during summer, but high food intakes can support deposition of nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc in body tissue even when dietary concentrations are low. Seasonal increases in digestive and metabolic functions allow muskoxen to rapidly accumulate energy and nutrients in body tissue during the short season of plant growth.

published proceedings

  • Physiol Biochem Zool

author list (cited authors)

  • Peltier, T. C., Barboza, P. S., & Blake, J. E.

citation count

  • 26

complete list of authors

  • Peltier, TC||Barboza, Perry S||Blake, John E

publication date

  • July 2003