Digestive responses during food restriction and realimentation in nestling house sparrows (Passer domesticus)

Physiol Zool. Sep-Oct 1998;71(5):561-73. doi: 10.1086/515965.


We used nestling house sparrows (Passer domesticus) under laboratory conditions to test for modulation of digestive efficiencies during periods of low and high food intake and tested the hypothesis that nestlings would exhibit compensatory changes in digestive efficiency following a period of food restriction. During the low intake period, nestlings were held at constant body mass for 48 h beginning on either day 3 or day 6 of life by feeding them at 50% of control rations. After 48 h of food restriction, nestlings were fed as much as they could consume, allowing the nestlings restricted at day 6 (early restriction not assessed) to consume 14% more food than control nestlings. For nestlings restricted at day 6 apparent dry mass assimilation of the entire diet was found to be 5% and 8% lower during food restriction and realimentation, respectively, compared with control nestlings that were not under- or overfed. There were no significant differences in radiolabeled starch assimilation efficiencies between control and restricted nestlings. Starch assimilation efficiencies remained constant from 3 d of age onward in control nestlings. Total starch extracted was lower during food restriction but reached a rate similar to that of control nestlings during the realimentation period. Passage times (time of first defecation, mean retention time, and mode passage time) measured with an indigestible marker were longer during food restriction and shorter during realimentation, relative to control nestlings. During realimentation there was no difference in intestinal rates of hydrolysis or mediated uptake of L-leucine compared with control nestlings. The main effect of changing food intake was apparently to alter flow rate, and hence retention time, causing slight changes in digestive efficiency. Thus, nestlings did not exhibit compensatory changes in digestion rates as implied by the hypothesis. Our finding of a lower dry mass assimilation efficiency and similar total starch assimilation during realimentation (relative to controls) helps explain why nestling house sparrows do not display compensatory growth, despite higher food intake. Our results indicate that the gut has little spare capacity to deal with increased food intake during growth following food restriction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Eating*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Food Deprivation
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Songbirds / physiology*