Incomplete degradation of lichen usnic acid and atranorin in Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)

Keywords: Lichen secondary metabolites, ruminant, faecal samples, Spitsbergen, Arctic


Previous studies of Eurasian tundra reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) in Norway indicate that their rumen microbiota play a key role in degrading lichen secondary metabolites. We investigated the presence of usnic acid and atranorin in faecal samples from Svalbard reindeer (R. tarandus platyrhynchus). Samples were collected in Bolterdalen valley together with vegetation samples from the study site. The mesic tundra in this area was dominated by vascular plants (59% of vegetation cover). Bryophytes (16%) and lichens (25%) were also present. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of usnic acid and atranorin in lichen and faeces samples were performed using high-performance liquid chromatography. Contents of atranorin averaged 12.49 ± 0.41 mg g–1in the thalli of Stereocaulon alpinum, while the average level of usnic acid was lowest in Cladonia mitis (12.75 ± 2.86 mg g–1) and highest in Flavocetraria cucullata (34.87 ± 0.47 mg g–1). Atranorin and usnic acid were detected in the faecal samples, averaging 0.41 ± 0.53 and 0.74 ± 1.11 (mean ± SD) mg g–1 dry matter, respectively. The presence of lichen secondary compounds in faeces from Svalbard reindeer shows that lichens are indeed included in their diet, although probably in small amounts because of depleted pastures. Contrary to previous findings in reindeer on mainland Norway, atranorin and usnic acid are not completely degraded or absorbed in Svalbard reindeer. To elucidate the mechanisms behind detoxification of lichen secondary compounds in reindeer, more research is needed on their respective rumen microbiomes and digestive enzymes.


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How to Cite
Węgrzyn, M. H., Wietrzyk-Pełka, P., Galanty, A., Cykowska-Marzencka, B., & Alterskjær Sundset, M. (2019). Incomplete degradation of lichen usnic acid and atranorin in Svalbard reindeer (<em>Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus</em&gt;). Polar Research, 38.
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