Title page for ETD etd-11192008-100120

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Leseigneur, Carolina Del Carmen
Email cdcleseigneur@zoology.up.ac.za
URN etd-11192008-100120
Document Title The feeding response of white-bellied sunbirds (Cinnyris [Nectarinia] talatala) to sugar concentration and viscosity of artificial nectar
Degree MSc
Department Zoology and Entomology
Advisor Name Title
Prof S W Nicolson Supervisor
  • species of pollinators
  • plant nectar
Date 2008-09-03
Availability unrestricted
Plant nectar is a simple food and is easily digested by many different species of pollinators. Many compounds make up the composition of floral nectars, but the most abundant are sugars, generally dominated by sucrose and the hexoses, glucose and fructose. Nectar sugars have been measured for many plant species visited by hummingbirds, sunbirds and other passerines, revealing a range of concentrations. The nectars of passerine-pollinated flowers are generally dilute compared to those of bee-pollinated flowers. The question why bird nectars are so dilute has been addressed in many studies. Many hypotheses have been proposed, among them the relationship between viscosity and drinking by birds. The viscosity of sugar solutions increases exponentially with increasing concentration, and capillarity is inversely proportional to viscosity. Nectarivorous birds imbibe nectar by capillarity, and high sugar concentrations could impose constraints on their feeding efficiency. Feeding in nectarivorous birds, especially hummingbirds, has been mostly devoted to assessing sugar type preferences. However, concentration preferences have received less attention, and the effect of viscosity on feeding has not been examined separately from sugar concentration for any bird species. Do nectarivorous birds show a preference for specific concentrations at a broad and a fine scale of difference, given a specific sugar type? Does viscosity impose a feeding limitation on nectarivorous birds? Does it affect their feeding behaviour? Sunbirds and other nectar-feeding birds can choose amongst various flowering plant species at any one time. Their feeding responses may have important consequences on pollination ecology. In this study, concentration preferences of white-bellied sunbirds were examined using paired solutions of either sucrose or equicaloric 1:1 mixtures of glucose and fructose, at a both a broad and a fine scale of difference between pairs over the concentration range of 0.25 to 2.5 M. I hypothesized that sunbirds would prefer concentrations of 1 M and higher on sucrose solutions, while preferring concentrations less than 1 M on hexose solutions. On both sugar types at the broad scale, the higher concentration was significantly preferred up to 1 M, suggesting a preference for 1 M sugar solutions. At a finer scale, white-bellied sunbirds were able to discriminate 0.03 and 0.05 M (1 and 2% w/w) concentration differences between sucrose and hexose solutions respectively. This discrimination is similar to that reported at low concentrations for other passerine nectar-feeders, and at higher concentrations for hummingbirds. To determine if high viscosity nectars limit the sugar intake of avian nectar consumers, white-bellied sunbirds were exposed to three different test series of sucrose solutions: control series (CS, pure sucrose 0.25 – 2.5 M), constant viscosity series (CVS, 0.25 – 0.7 M with increased viscosity equivalent to that of 1 M sucrose) and constant concentration series (CCS, 1 M with increased viscosities equivalent to that of 1.5, 2 and 2.5 M sucrose). Viscosities were artificially altered with Tylose®. The sunbirds had reduced intake rates and gained less energy on more viscous sucrose solutions. Also, sunbirds did not alter their feeding behaviour (feeding frequency, feeding duration, total feeding duration and feeding interval) in any significant way when feeding on more viscous sucrose solutions. This lack of change in feeding behaviour led to lower sugar intake rates and sugar consumption. These results suggest that sunbirds suffer a preingestional limitation when consuming nectars with viscosities higher than those due to sugar concentration alone.

© 2008 University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Leseigneur, CDC 2008, The feeding response of white-bellied sunbirds (Cinnyris [Nectarinia] talatala) to sugar concentration and viscosity of artificial nectar, MSc dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-11192008-100120/ >


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