Diet Evolution

A carnivore in herbivore's clothing

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Science  07 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6444, pp. 967-968
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6444.967-c

For pandas, bamboo can be as nutritious as meat.

PHOTO: STEVE BLOOM IMAGES/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

It is widely known that pandas eat bamboo. The conundrum is that these members of the order Carnivora show herbivore traits in their jaw and teeth but carnivore traits in their gut and digestive enzymes. Nie et al. used niche models, tracking, and nutrient analysis to better characterize the details of the bamboo diet and its absorption, and they find that pandas' motley traits may not be incongruous after all. Although their diet is vegetarian, pandas prefer to eat bamboo at stages in the plant's growth when it has the highest protein content. The macronutrient energy ratios that pandas obtain from bamboo by being picky are similar to those obtained by hypercarnivores that secure more than 70% of their diet from animal sources. Herbivory works well in bamboo forests with abundant resources.

Curr. Biol. 29, 1677 (2019).

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