Optimal digestion theory does not predict the effect of pathogens on intestinal plasticity.


One prediction of optimal digestion theory is that organisms will increase the relative length of their digestive tracts when food resources become limited. We used theory of optimal digestion to test whether tadpoles can adjust the relative length of their intestines when challenged with the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). The degree of tadpole mouthpart damage, a symptom of Bd infections that reduces food consumption, was associated positively with the length of tadpole intestines relative to their body size, consistent with optimal digestion theory. After controlling for mouthpart damage, tadpoles exposed to Bd had shorter intestines relative to their body size, opposite to the predictions of optimal digestion theory. One explanation of why tadpoles with higher Bd loads have shorter relative intestinal lengths is that they divert energy from maintaining intestinal and overall growth towards anti-parasite defences.

Publication Title

Biology letters