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Milk Composition in the Weddell Seal Leptonychotes weddellii: Evidence for a Functional Role of Milk Carbohydrates in Pinnipeds

Regina Eisert, Olav T. Oftedal and Graham K. Barrell
Physiological and Biochemical Zoology: Ecological and Evolutionary Approaches
Vol. 86, No. 2 (March/April 2013), pp. 159-175
DOI: 10.1086/669036
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669036
Page Count: 17
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Milk Composition in the Weddell Seal Leptonychotes weddellii: Evidence for a Functional Role of Milk Carbohydrates in Pinnipeds
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Abstract

AbstractWe propose that secretion of milk sugar has important consequences for the metabolic economies of lactating phocid seals and their pups. Milk was collected from 21 Weddell seals Leptonychotes weddellii in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, and assayed by standard methods. Milk composition changed over the course of lactation, but at mid- to late lactation (16–40 d postpartum), Weddell seal milk composition was relatively constant at water, fat, crude protein, sugar, ash, and kJ g−1 whole milk (WM). At this stage, milk composition varied among individual seals in all assayed constituents except ash. The concentration of sugar in the aqueous phase of Weddell seal milk ( g sugar L−1 water) was ca. of levels found in terrestrial carnivores, indicating that the low sugar concentration of WM is primarily due to its high fat content, not alteration of the aqueous phase. In early lactation, fasting Weddell seals were estimated to devote 39 g d−1 glucose to milk sugar synthesis, an amount similar to the estimated demand of the maternal brain. This additional glucose demand must be covered by gluconeogenesis in fasting animals and represents a considerable additional drain on maternal resources. However, provision of sugar to offspring at rates sufficient to meet neonatal substrate requirements appears to be essential for efficient fat and protein deposition and thus may be an important component of the phocid reproductive strategy of rapid growth and early weaning.

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