In contrast to virtually all other species of ruminants, reindeer (Rangifer arandus) eat substantial amounts of lichens in winter. Several different species of lichens are eaten and most are highly palatable. The chemical composition and the in vitro digestibility of six species of terricolous lichens commonly eaten by reindeer were measured. Ruminal inoculum was obtained in winter from six free-ranging reindeer that had been grazing on natural pastures in northern Norway. Analysis of the plant parts recovered from their rumens confirmed that the animals had been eating a mixed diet that included both lichens and vascular plants. The chemical composition and the in vitro digestibility of the different species of lichens varied considerably between species and genera. Cetraria islandica, C. nivalis and Cladonia arbuscula were highly digestible [69-77% dry matter (DM)], Stereocaulon paschale was poorly digestible (43% DM), whereas Cladonia stellaris and C. gradlis had an intermediate digestibility (56-57% DM). Mixing ladonia stellaris with vascular plants (50:50) had no effect on the in vitro digestibility of the combined substrates. The in vitro digestibility of Cladonia stellaris in inoculum from two captive reindeer which had had no access to lichens was very low (10% DM). This shows that the source of inoculum used for digestibility trials has a major effect on the apparent digestibility of the substrates. Evidently, the extent to which reindeer are able to utilize lichens depends on the species that are selected and on what the animals have been eating recently.
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