Fibre-induced feed sorting in King Quail (Coturnix chinensis): behavioural plasticity elicited by a physiological challenge
We examined the effect of an abrupt change in diet fibre content on the feed intake, gastrointestinal morphology and utilisation of gastroliths by a small (ca. 40 g body mass) herbivorous bird, the King Quail (Coturnix chinensis). King Quail were acclimated for 14 days on a low-fibre (LF) pullet starter diet. Following acclimation, half the quail population was immediately switched to a 23 % wood-shaving diluted high-fibre (HF) diet for a further 14 days. Contrary to expectations, we found no differences in feed intake, gut morphology or gastrolith mass between the LF- and HF-fed quail. However, when switched from the LF to HF diet, the quail commenced feed-sorting behaviours that permitted HF-fed animals to maintain body condition (mass, abdominal fat mass) without adjustments to intestinal organ sizes or gastrolith mass. Feed sorting was initiated only after exposure to the HF diet, which corresponded with an immediate reduction in food intake, suggesting that the sorting behaviour was cued by a physiological challenge associated with the HF diet. This challenge apparently induced preferential sorting behaviour and was possibly due to abrupt changes in the rate of food passage, impacting satiation or other internal cues.
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