Novel approaches to recreating animal histories: the metabolic signature of hair
Climate change could impact agricultural production systems by altering food quality. Animals consuming low quality forage catabolize fat and protein stores and expend energy seeking food, but when does this switch occur? Our ultimate goal is to develop mathematical models that link metabolic signatures of animals to their movement behaviour. As proof-of-principle, we will test if the metabolic history can be determined from small sections of tail hair, taken sequentially from root to the distal end, of dairy cattle in which post-partum nutritional stress is well defined. We will then compare the serial metabolic signature of starving versus healthy wild migratory ruminants (wildebeest) using hair samples previously collected from carcasses. This will provide pilot data for a full grant application that combines detailed animal movement with metabolic chrono-sequence to create a new generation of "physiologically informed" movement models that quantify how shifts in food supply affect animal movement and energetics.