The fibrolytic potential of domestic and wild herbivores microbial ecosystems on maize stover.
The growing demand for meat worldwide by the increasing human population (6.8 billion) calls for an increase in livestock production as well as attention to environmental sustainability. Production increases are critical especially in Africa with the highest annual population growth rate (2.5%), where most communities rely on livestock for protein supply. Attempts by intensive livestock farming to optimize production are limited by fibrous quality feeds (roughages) and their unavailability in both developed and developing countries. The overall objective of this study was to scan both domestic and wild herbivores in search for microbial ecosystems with superior fibrolytic potential that can be used as feed additives. It was hypothesized that microbes from wild herbivore can improve fibrous feed breakdown in domesticated ruminants. Experiment 1 evaluated the use of fresh or in vitro cultured faecal inoculum (FF) from two Jersey cows as a potential substitute for rumen fluid (RF). Cultured FF was a better substitute for fresh RF as demonstrated by percentage differences in exocellulase activity (0.4%) and true degradability (TD) (7%), compared to the differences observed between fresh RF and FF for exocellulase activity (33%) and TD (14%). It was applied in subsequent experimentation because it was cost effective (no surgery and reduced sample collection time). The second experiment compared the fibrolytic competence of cultured faecal inocula from three hindgut fermenters (miniature horse (mH), horse (H) and Zebra (ZB)) in summer and winter grazing in their natural environment. Both cellulase enzyme assays (exocellulase, endocellulase and hemicellulase) and in vitro maize stover digestibility study ranked the herbivores according to their fibrolytic competence as ZB > H > mH. The effect of cultured faecal inocula from H, ZB and wildebeest (WB) and its combined systems (N1=H+WB, N2=H+ZB, N3=WB+ZB and N4=H+WB+ZB) on the fermentation of maize stover were also evaluated in vitro. Both enzyme assays and MS degradability studies showed that the combined systems were higher (P<0.01) in fibrolytic activities compared to the individual systems. The microbial ecosystems were ranked as N1 > N2 > N4 > H > ZB > WB >N3; and N3 > N1 > N4 > WB > N2 > ZB >H by their exocellulase activity and degradability parameters, repetitively. The diversity of microbial ecosystems was confirmed by numerous active carboxymethyl cellulase bands present on a carboxymethy cellulose zymograms in experiment 4. The combined microbial ecosystems contain more active and variable bands of cellulases than in the individual microbial ecosystems. Systems N3 and N1 were considered as the best inocula for rumen transinoculation studies. Experiment 5 assessed the in vivo effect of direct-fed microbials from N1 and N3 on MS degradation, ruminal fermentation characteristics and cellulase enzyme profile in sheep. Feed dry matter intake increased (P<0.03) in N1 but tended to increase when inoculated with N3. The treatments, N1 and N3 increased (P<0.05) rumen exocellulase (9.4 and 33.2%, respectively) and endocellulase (82.1 and 47.1%, respectively) specific activities but not hemicellulase activity. Maize stover degradability parameters for N3 (TD, degradability of the insoluble fraction of MS, effective degradability, total SCFA and propionate) measured after 96 h of incubation tended (P>0.05) to be numerically different (1.1, 5.4, 7.1 and 7.9%, respectively). Increase in propionate for N3 was accompanied by higher total SCFA and lower CH4. A decrease in CH4 and no difference in CO2 allow both systems to be environmentally friendly since they have been associated with global warming. These studies showed that direct-fed microbials from N1 and N3 inocula have the potential of improving the utilization of maize stover feeds in ruminants, particularly in view of its simplicity and availability which allows it to be implemented at a relatively lower cost compared to other specific strains or microbial cultures. However, more research is required to identify, purify and classify the superior fibrolytic microbes in the most active ecosystems.