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Sugar preferences of avian nectarivores are correlated with intestinal sucrase activity

Napier, K.R., McWhorter, T.J., Nicolson, S.W. and Fleming, P.A. (2013) Sugar preferences of avian nectarivores are correlated with intestinal sucrase activity. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 86 (5). pp. 499-514.

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Nectar-feeding birds generally demonstrate preference for hexose solutions at low sugar concentrations, switching to sucrose/ no preference at higher concentrations. Species vary in the concentration at which the switch from hexose preference occurs; this could reflect physiological constraints that would also influence nectar selection when foraging. We recorded concentration- dependent sugar type preferences in three opportunistic/ generalist Australian nectarivorous species: Dicaeum hirundinaceum, Zosterops lateralis, and Lichenostomus virescens. All three preferred hexoses up to sugar concentrations of 0.25 mol L-1 and switched to sucrose/no preference for higher concentrations. Using these and literature records, we investigated physiological mechanisms that may explain the concentration dependence of sugar type preferences and compared diet preference data with foraging records.We measured sucrase activity in Z. lateralis and L. virescens as well as three specialized nectarivorous species (Anthochaera carunculata, Phylidonyris novaehollandiae, and Trichoglossus haematodus) for comparison with published concentration-dependent sugar preference data. Sucrase activity varied between these species (P = 0.006). The minimum diet concentration at which birds show no sugar preference was significantly correlated with sucrase activity for the 11 species analyzed (P = 0.005). Birds with the lowest sucrase activity showed hexose preference at higher diet concentrations, and birds with the greatest sucrase activity showed either no hexose preference or hexose preference on only the most dilute diets. Foraging data compiled from the literature also support the laboratory analyses; for example, T. haematodus (preference for hexose over a wide range of diet concentrations, low sucrase activity) also feed primarily on hexose nectars in the wild. Intestinal sucrase activity is likely to contribute to diet selectivity in nectarivorous bird species.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Copyright: © 2013 by The University of Chicago.
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