Variation in True Metabolizable Energy Among Aquatic Vegetation and Ducks

Margaret C. Gross, Sarah E. McClain, Joseph D. Lancaster, Christopher N. Jacques, J. Brian Davis, John W. Simpson, Aaron P. Yetter, Heath M. Hagy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Avian diet quality is typically measured using true metabolizable energy (TMEN), which is a measure of assimilable energy of food items accounting for innate endogenous losses. Originally developed for use in the poultry industry, TMEN methods have been adapted to determine the value of natural foods consumed by waterfowl to parameterize bioenergetics models for conservation planning. Because there is little knowledge of the variation in TMEN estimates among food items and waterfowl species, we investigated TMEN of 6 common species of submersed aquatic vegetation for mallards (Anas platyrhynchos; i.e., a diet generalist) and gadwall (Mareca strepera; i.e., a diet specialist) in the midwestern United States during autumn 2015–2017. We precision fed and collected excreta from ducks using standard bioassays to estimate TMEN. Mallards had slightly greater TMEN than gadwall, but there was considerable variation in TMEN among vegetation species, duck species, and individuals within each species. True metabolizable energy (±SE; kcal/g[dry]) for mallards was greatest for Canadian waterweed (Elodea canadensis; 1.66 ± 0.26), followed by coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum; 1.51 ± 0.28), southern naiad (Najas guadalupensis; 1.37 ± 0.39), sago pondweed (Stuckenia pectinata; 0.50 ± 0.22), wild celery (Vallisneria americana; 0.05 ± 0.42), and Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum; –0.13 ± 0.42). Mean TMEN for gadwall was greatest for Eurasian watermilfoil (0.77 ± 0.32), followed by Canadian waterweed (0.70 ± 0.31), coontail (0.55 ± 0.28), southern naiad (–0.61 ± 0.34), wild celery (–0.98 ± 0.39), and sago pondweed (–1.07 ± 0.33). Generally, TMEN for most vegetation species was less than agricultural grains, but it was similar to ranges reported for seeds of naturally occurring hydrophytic vegetation and aquatic macroinvertebrates. We recommend that conservation planners incorporate species-specific TMEN estimates in bioenergetics models and that future researchers improve TMEN assays for wild waterfowl following our recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-758
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • bioenergetics model
  • conservation
  • energetic carrying capacity
  • metabolizable energy
  • submersed aquatic vegetation
  • waterfowl
  • wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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