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Overview of nutritional strategies to lower enteric methane emissions in
Alireza Bayat and Kevin J. Shingfield
Animal Production Research, MTT, FI 31600, Jokioinen, Finland
Since ruminants are capable of utilizing fibrous feeds not digested by mono-gastrics, they represent a
valuable natural resource for meeting future increases in global food supply. Ruminants have both local
(nitrogen and phosphorus pollutions) and global (greenhouse gases, GHG) environmental footprints. It is
estimated that the livestock sector is responsible for 18% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Losses
of methane represent 30 to 50% of total GHG from livestock production, with the contribution from
ruminants accounting for about 80%. Due to the concerns of increases in GHG emissions into the
environment and potential effects on global warming, there is a need to develop strategies to lower
methane emissions from ruminants as part of an overall requirement to improve the sustainability of
ruminant food production systems. Methane is produced as a by-product of anaerobic fermentation in the
reticulo-rumen, largely due to the activity of methanogenic archaea. Recent research has focused on the
potential of novel feed ingredients (probiotics, ionophores, acetogen-based inoculants, bacteriocins,
organic acids and plant extracts) or vaccines to lower hydrogen production and/or increase the transfer and
utilization of metabolic hydrogen in the production of end-products other than methane in the rumen.
Research to date has provided evidence that dietary supplements of plant or marine oils, oilseeds, specific
fatty acids and condensed tannins, as well as defaunation, increases in production level or decreases in the
proportion of forage in the diet may lower enteric methane production. Even though dietary lipid
supplements can be used to lower methane output, in high amounts a decrease in intake and milk
production can be expected. While further investigations have demonstrated the efficacy of specific agents
on methanogenesis in vitro, the effects have not been substantiated in vivo. Altering the ratio of H2 /non-
H2 producing fibrolytic bacteria to lower methanogenesis without altering fibre digestion has been
demonstrated under experimental conditions. Furthermore, non-H2 producing communities have been
characterized in the digesta of certain ruminant species. In contrast, stimulating acetogenesis by
inoculation with rumen acetogens or non-rumen acetogens have met with limited success in vitro and in
vivo. Research has also concentrated on stimulating the ultilisation of metabolic hydrogen by sulphate
reducing bacteria, but there remains concern over the toxicity of H2S in the host ruminant. Investigations
of nitrate reducing bacteria which produce more NH3 and less toxic nitrite, have indicated promising
results. Increasing the number of capnophilic bacteria which use CO2 and H2 to produce organic acids,
succinic acid in particular, may decrease methane production. In isolation, several approaches have been
shown to decrease enteric methane emissions, but often part of the changes observed are related to
lowered organic matter digestion in the rumen. However, lowering methane production per unit product
over the lifetime of an animal should be regarded as the central goal to decrease GHG from ruminant
livestock systems. This highlights the need for integrated solutions to improve digestive efficiency, as well
as fertility and health. In conclusion, any prospective solution to lower on-farm GHG emissions must be
practical, cost effective and have no adverse effect on the profitability of ruminant meat and milk
production. Recent research has indicated significant potential, but none of the strategies tested thus far
satisfy all of the necessary criteria for immediate implementation.
Key words: Methane, Ruminants, Nutritional strategy
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The demand for meat and milk is predicted to almost double by 2050 (Steinfeld et al., 2006) due to
increases in the global population and increased consumption of these foods in developing countries.
Ruminants that are capable of utilizing fibrous feeds, not digested by mono-gastrics, represent a valuable
natural resource to meet global food requirements in the future. However, ruminants contribute to both
local (nitrogen and phosphorus) and global (greenhouse gases (GHG; collectively CH4, CO2 and N2O)
emissions into the environment (Morgavi et al., 2010). Overall, the livestock sector is responsible for 18%
of global anthropogenic GHG emissions (Steinfeld et al., 2006). Losses of methane (CH4) represent 30 to
50% of total GHG from animal livestock production systems, with the contribution from ruminants
accounting for about 80% (Gill et al., 2010). Due to the concerns of increases in GHG emissions into the
environment and potential effects on global warming, there is a need to develop strategies to lower CH4
emissions from ruminants, as part of an overall requirement to secure and develop more sustainable
ruminant food production systems in the future. Over a wide range of diets, enteric CH4 accounts for
between 2 to 12 % of dietary energy intake (Johnson and Johnson, 1995). In addition to concerns on GHG
emissions, it is important to recognize that CH4 represents a significant loss of energy that could
potentially be repartitioned towards tissues or the mammary gland. In attempting to mitigate both local
and global emissions into the environment, research should arguably be directed towards lowering enteric
CH4 and CO2 as well as N2O per unit product as well as increasing animal longevity This highlights the
need for integrated solutions that do not simply focus on improved digestive efficiency in isolation, but
also target improvements in fertility and animal health. In the following short review, both established and
emerging nutritional strategies to lower ruminant enteric CH4 emissions are considered.
Strategies to lower enteric methane emissions
Methane is produced as a by-product of anaerobic fermentation in the reticulo-rumen of ruminants due,
in a large part, to the activity of methanogenic archaea. Due to the complexity of the rumen microbial
ecosystem, other microorganisms also regulate and alter CH4 production (Morgavi et al., 2010). Existing
strategies to lower enteric CH4 emissions include increasing feed intake, proportion of concentrates in the
diet, feeding high-quality forages or dietary supplements of plant and marine oils, oilseeds or specific fatty
acids and ionophores. Recent research has focused on the potential of novel feed ingredients (probiotics,
acetogens, bacteriocins, archaeal viruses, organic acids and plant extracts), vaccination of host animal
against some methanogenic bacteria and the selection of cows with inherently lower losses of CH4 as a
proportion of dietary energy intake (Boadi et al., 2004).
Losses of CH4 as a percentage of gross energy intake decreases 1.6% for each multiple of maintenance
intake (Johnson and Johnson, 1995). The benefits of higher intakes are, at least in part, due to changes in
rumen digestion kinetics. Mean retention time in the rumen is thought to explain about 28% of variation in
CH4 production (Okine et al., 1989). Decreases in enteric CH4 emissions in response to increases in
concentrate supplementation are thought to arise from several factors including a reduction in the molar
acetate:propionate ratio of rumen volatile fatty acids, decreases in rumen pH and lowered protozoal
numbers (Martin et al., 2010).
Supplementing diets with lipids is arguably one of the most practical and effective strategies to lower
enteric CH4 emissions in ruminants. Based on an extensive evaluation of available data, it was reported
that lipid supplements decrease enteric CH4 output on average by 3.8% per 1% dry matter (DM) increase
in dietary fat content (Martin et al., 2010). While dietary lipid supplements have been shown to lower
CH4, most studies have been relatively short in duration, and there are few data on the efficacy over an
extended period (Martin et al., 2010). A summary of trials conducted in New Zealand reported that dietary
supplements of a mixture of sunflower and fish oil (500 g/d) over a 14d period lowered CH4 by 27%,
while no change in CH4 was observed in cows fed 300 g/d of linseed oil and fish oil for 77d (Woodward et
al., 2006). It remains unclear if the inhibitory effects of fatty acids on rumen methanogenesis persist for
long periods, or whether microbial communities in the rumen adapt over time. While dietary lipid
supplements decrease enteric CH4 production, feeding oils in high amounts (≥50 g/kg diet DM) often
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lower feed intake and milk production (Martin et al., 2008; Hristov et al., 2011). Overall, dietary fat
addition results in the most consistent decrease in CH4 relative to changes in the forage:concentrate ratio
of the diet or other feed additives, that when fed in moderate amounts can lower GHG without
compromising the performance of growing or lactating cattle (Grainger and Beauchemin, 2011).
Ionophores such as monensin cause a moderate but transitory inhibition of rumen methanogenesis.
Decreases in CH4 to ionophores are related to a reduction in rumen protozoal numbers (Guan et al., 2006),
and alterations in ruminal bacterial populations, i.e. inhibition of the growth of Ruminococci without
affecting F. Succinogenes (Chen and Wolin, 1979). Since January 2006 the use of ionophores in animal
feeds has been banned in the European Union. It has been suggested that the relationship between the
diversity of cellulolytic microorganisms in the rumen and CH4 production merits further investigation,
based on evidence that metabolic hydrogen and CH4 production can be decreased in the absence of
lowered fibre digestion (Morgavi et al., 2010).
Altering the ratio of H2 /non-H2 producing fibrolytic bacteria to lower methanogenesis without altering
fibre digestion has been demonstrated under experimental conditions (Morgavi et al., 2010). This concept
is supported based on evidence of the occurrence of dominant non-H2 producing microbial communities in
the rumen of certain feral ruminants. Populations of non-H2 producing fibrolytic bacteria (Fibrobacter)
were found to be higher and that of methanogens were lower than expected in rumen contents of buffaloes
under natural conditions (Morgavi et al., 1994). Furthermore, non-H2 producing fibrolytic bacteria have
been shown to produce less CH4 in vitro (Chaucheyras-Durand et al., 2010).
A meta-analysis concluded that probiotic live yeasts have no effect on CH4 production (Sauvant,
2005). However, the findings of other studies indicate that probiotic yeasts have variable effects on CH4
emissions (Doreau and Jouany, 1998; Chaucheyras-Durand et al., 2008), due to functional and metabolic
diversity between specific strains (Newbold and Rode, 2006). In light of the significant genetic diversity
between yeast strains, the potential of these feed additives to lower CH4 emissions merits further
investigation (Martin et al., 2010).
Certain bacteriocins including nicin and bovicin have been tested in vitro or in vivo. Most evaluations
are based on functional studies in vitro with few data in vivo, highlighting that much more information on
the stability and efficacy of bacteriocins in ruminants is required before these can be used on-farm (Martin
et al., 2010). Some time ago, it was suggested that archaeal viruses that act against rumen methaogenes
could be used to decrease CH4 production (Klieve and Hegarty, 1999), but thus far, these have not yet
been isolated and/or identified in the scientific literature (Martin et al., 2010).
Dietary supplementation of 100 g fumaric acid/kg diet DM in free or encapsulated form was shown to
decrease CH4 by 62% and 76%, respectively in growing lambs (Wood et al., 2009). In contrast, other
studies have reported that fumaric acid supplements had no effect on CH4 emissions when fed at 175 g/d
to growing beef cattle (Beauchemin and McGinn, 2006), at 80 g/d to steers (McGinn et al., 2004) or
between 4–10 g/100 g (diet DM) in lambs (Molano et al., 2008). Other investigations have examined the
potential of organic acids to serve as alternative hydrogen sinks to CH4 in the rumen. Dietary supplements
of DL-malic acid (from 0 to 75 g/kg diet DM) were reported to decrease linearly CH4 production in beef
cattle, changes that were also accompanied by lowered DM intake, total rumen VFA production and molar
acetate to propionate ratios (Foley et al., 2009a). It has been speculated that the potential of organic acids
to lower CH4 may depend on the forage to concentrate ratio of the diet (Foley et al., 2009b). Further
experiments are required to define conditions that optimize the efficacy of organic acids in the rumen and
the persistency of their effects on rumen methanogenesis (Hook et al., 2010).
Three main plant compounds, condensed tannins, saponins, and essential oils, have been identified as
effective for lowering CH4 production in vitro (Martin et al., 2010). Tannins are classified into two groups;
condensed tannins and hydrolysable tannins. The anti-methanogenic activity of tannins has been attributed
mainly to condensed tannins, whereas hydrolysable tannins are considered toxic to the host ruminant
(Martin et al., 2010). Two different mechanisms explaining the mode of action of condensed tannins on
CH4 have been described; a direct effect on ruminal methanogens and an indirect effect on hydrogen
production due to lower feed degradation in the rumen (Tavendale et al., 2005). Condensed tannins are
Maataloustieteen Päivät 2012 4
found in tropical shrub legumes including Lotus spp. and Acacia spp. Dietary supplements of plants or
extracts of condensed tannins have variable effects on CH4 production (0 to -30%) in ruminants (Martin et
al., 2010). Adding condensed tannins to the diet cannot be assumed to lower rumen methanogenesis, and
their use requires further research.
Saponins, a group of secondary compounds, are found in many plants. These glycosides have a direct
effect on rumen microbes and decrease protein degradation and increase microbial protein synthesis in the
rumen (Makkar and Becker, 1996), changes that lower the availability of hydrogen for CH4 production.
Furthermore, saponins have been shown to increase ruminal concentrations of propionate at the expense of
acetate and butyrate (Abreu et al., 2004) that would be expected to decrease CH4production.
In the recent years, several investigations have explored the potential of essential oils to lower CH4 in
vitro. Essential oils are steam-volatile or organic-solvent extracts of plants (often herbs and spices)
containing cyclic hydrocarbons and their alcohol, aldehyde or ester derivatives (Patra and Saxena, 2009).
Essential oils are lipophilic and interact with cell membranes which accounts for anti-bacterial and
anti-fungal properties (Patra and Saxena, 2009). Components in essential oils are particularly toxic to
gram positive bacteria (Jouany and Morgavi, 2007) and therefore, are capable of influencing rumen
fermentation patterns. Garlic oil and some of its constituents have been shown to decrease CH4 production
in vitro due to the toxicity of organosulphur compounds such as diallyl sulphide and allicin on
methanogens (Busquet et al., 2005; Macheboeuf et al., 2006). Supplementing the diet with 1 g/d of
essential oils and spice extracts was demonstrated to have no on CH4 output or alter feed digestibility in
heifers (Beauchemin and McGinn, 2006), while further investigations in vivo are required to assess the
efficacy, persistency and toxicity of these compounds in ruminants (Calsamiglia et al., 2007).
A vaccine against three selected methanogens has been developed in Australia. Immunization in sheep
regions (Wright et al., 2004).
It is possible to suppress the activity of rumen methanogenes with chemical agents including
CH4 production and methanogen populations, but rumen methanogenesis gradually recovered from 5 to 39
days of treatment, suggesting resistance or adaptation of affected microbes over time (Knight et al., 2011).
However, use of this approach cannot be considered practicable, since chloroform is a known carcinogen
and exhibits hepatotoxic properties (Knight et al., 2011).
Repartitioning metabolic hydrogen in the rumen
When methanogenesis is inhibited, H ions must be utilised in other metabolic pathways in the rumen to
avoid negative effects on fermentation (Knight et al., 2011). Increasing acetogenesis by natural rumen
acetogens or non-rumen acetogens have met with limited success in vitro and in vivo (Morgavi et al.,
2010). The potential of increasing metabolic hydrogen use by sulphate reducing bacteria has been
examined, but there is serious concern over the production of H2S as an end-product due to toxic effects in
the host ruminant (Gould et al., 1997). Nitrate is another possible sink for hydrogen produced during
rumen carbohydrate fermentation, but the reduction of nitrate results in the production of nitrite, which is
both toxic to ruminants and slowly converted to NH3 in the rumen. Investigations of nitrate reducing
bacteria which produce more NH3 and less toxic nitrite, have indicated promising results (Iwamoto et al.,
2002; Sar et al., 2005). Increasing the number of capnophilic bacteria which use CO2 and H2 to produce
organic acids, succinic acid in particular, may decrease CH4 production. While further studies have
demonstrated the efficacy of specific agents on methanogenesis in vitro, but there is insufficient data in
vivo to confirm the potential of these agents to lower CH4 in practice.
Proposed strategies to lower on-farm CH4 emissions must be practical, cost effective, sustainable and
have no substantial adverse effect on the profitability of ruminant livestock production in order to be
considered viable. Manipulating diet composition to induce changes in rumen fermentation characteristics
production by 8%, while further testing failed to confirm efficacy in other geographical
analogues. Drenching cows with chloroform resulted in a dramatic initial decrease in
Maataloustieteen Päivät 2012 5
remains the most feasible approach to achieve immediate decreases in CH4 production. However,
lowering CH4 production per unit product over the lifetime of productive ruminants should be seen as the
central goal to decrease GHG emissions of ruminant livestock systems. This highlights the need for
integrated solutions that not only result in improved digestive efficiency, but also target improvements in
fertility and animal health as a means to extend ruminant productive lifetime. While recent research has
indicated significant potential, none of the strategies tested satisfy all of the necessary criteria for
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