The digestive system is the interface between the supply of food for an animal and the demand for energy and nutrients to maintain the body, to grow, and to reproduce. Digestive systems are not morphologically static but rather dynamically respond to changes in the physical and chemical characteristics of the diet and the level of food intake. In this article, we discuss three themes that affect the ability of an animal to alter digestive function in relation to novel substrates and changing food supply: (1) the fermentative digestion in herbivores, (2) the integration of cardiopulmonary and digestive functions, and (3) the evolution of dietary specialization. Herbivores consume, digest, and detoxify complex diets by using a wide variety of enzymes expressed by bacteria, predominantly in the phyla Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. Carnivores, such as snakes that feed intermittently, sometimes process very large meals that require compensatory adjustments in blood flow, acid secretion, and regulation of acid-base homeostasis. Snakes and birds that specialize in simple diets of prey or nectar retain their ability to digest a wider selection of prey. The digestive system continues to be of interest to comparative physiologists because of its plasticity, both phenotypic and evolutionary, and because of its widespread integration with other physiological systems, including thermoregulation, circulation, ventilation, homeostasis, immunity, and reproduction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology