Sucrose digestion capacity in birds shows convergent coevolution with nectar composition across continents

Todd J. McWhorter, Jonathan A. Rader, Jorge E. Schondube, Susan W. Nicolson, Berry Pinshow, Patricia A. Fleming, Yocelyn T. Gutiérrez-Guerrero, Carlos Martínez del Rio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

The major lineages of nectar-feeding birds (hummingbirds, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flowerpiercers, and lorikeets) are considered examples of convergent evolution. We compared sucrose digestion capacity and sucrase enzymatic activity per unit intestinal surface area among 50 avian species from the New World, Africa, and Australia, including 20 nectarivores. With some exceptions, nectarivores had smaller intestinal surfaces, higher sucrose hydrolysis capacity, and greater sucrase activity per unit intestinal area. Convergence analysis showed high values for sucrose hydrolysis and sucrase activity per unit intestinal surface area in specialist nectarivores, matching the high proportion of sucrose in the nectar of the plants they pollinate. Plants pollinated by generalist nectar-feeding birds in the Old and New Worlds secrete nectar in which glucose and fructose are the dominant sugars. Matching intestinal enzyme activity in birds and nectar composition in flowers appears to be an example of convergent coevolution between plants and pollinators on an intercontinental scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102717
JournaliScience
Volume24
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - 23 Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Biological Sciences
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Phylogenetics
  • Zoology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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