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Osmoregulation in an avian nectarivore, the whitebellied sunbird Nectarinia talatala: response to extremes of diet concentration

Fleming, P.A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0626-3851 and Nicolson, S.W. (2003) Osmoregulation in an avian nectarivore, the whitebellied sunbird Nectarinia talatala: response to extremes of diet concentration. Journal of Experimental Biology, 206 (11). pp. 1845-1854.

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Water intake of nectarivores is intrinsically linked to nectar concentration. Osmoregulation in whitebellied sunbirds Nectarinia talatala (body mass 9.3±0.1 g, mean ± S.D., N=7), was examined by feeding them sucrose solutions, equivalent to extreme diet concentrations (0.07-2.5 mol l-1 sucrose; 2-65% w/w), with and without supplementary drinking water. Total water gain was 33-515% of body mass daily. Cloacal fluid (CF) volume increased with diet dilution from 0.4% to 309% of body mass while increases in evaporative water loss (obtained by difference) were also recorded. Osmolality of CF demonstrated the largest scope yet recorded for a bird and was significantly correlated with water flux: mean values were 6-460 mosm kg-1 H2O (minimum 3, maximum 1900 mosm kg-1). When supplementary water was provided, its consumption by birds fed concentrated diets (2.5 mol l-1 sucrose) led to a dramatic reduction in CF osmolality, from 461±253 to 80±119 mosm kg-1 fluid. Sunbirds maintained energy balance on sucrose diets varying tenfold in concentration, from 0.25 to 2.5 mol l-1; however, on extremely dilute diets (0.07 and 0.1 mol l-1 sucrose, lower than natural nectar concentrations) their inability to maintain energy balance was probably due to excess preformed water. Total osmotic excretion and concentrations of Na+ and K+ increased with high water fluxes, and are a possible physiological constraint for nectarivorous birds on artificial dilute diets devoid of electrolytes. Even low electrolyte levels in nectars may be adequate to replace these losses, but other physiological limitations to the intake of dilute nectars are increased energetic costs of solute recovery, increased heat loss and interference with digestive processes. Sunbirds therefore deal with sugar solutions spanning the range of nectar concentrations by shutting down water excretion on concentrated diets, or, on dilute diets, by producing extremely dilute CF with some of the lowest solute concentrations recorded.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Company of Biologists
Copyright: © The Authors
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