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The physiological basis of adaptation in goats to harsh environments

Small Ruminant Research
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0921-4488(99)00096-6
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Abstract Goat living in harsh environments represents a climax in the capacity of domestic ruminants to adjust to such areas. This ability is multifactorial: low body mass, and low metabolic requirements of goats can be regarded as an important asset to them for it minimise their maintenance and water requirements, in areas where water sources are widely distributed and food sources are limited by their quantity and quality. An ability to reduce metabolism allows goats to survive even after prolonged periods of severe limited food availability. A skillful grazing behaviour and efficient digestive system enable goats to attain maximal food intake and maximal food utilisation in a given condition. There is a positive interaction between the better recycling rate of urea and a better digestion of such food in desert goats. The rumen plays an important role in the evolved adaptations by serving as a huge fermentation vat and water reservoir. The water stored in the rumen is utilised during dehydration, and the rumen serves as a container, which accommodates the ingested water upon rehydration. The rumen, the salivary glands and the kidney coordinately function in the regulation of water intake and water distribution following acute dehydration and rapid rehydration. Goats in the tropics, when possible, eat a diet composed of tree-leaves and shrubs (browse), which ensure a reliable and steady supply of food all year around, albeit, from a low to medium quality food. Some of the physiological features of ruminants defined as intermediate feeders like large salivary gland, the large absorptive area of their rumen epithelium, and the capacity to change rapidly the volume of the foregut in response to environmental changes are most likely responsible for the goat’s superior digestion capacity.

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