Avian fruit selection and sugar preferences.
It has been suggested that fruit features such as nutrient content, size and colour have co-evolved with dispersal agent behaviour, physiology and morphology. Avian nectarivore feeding ecology is relatively well studied; however, less is known about fruit selection in avian frugivores. Previous work highlights the importance of individual factors that contribute towards fruit preferences, but few studies bring these factors together. Consequently the aim of this dissertation was to attempt this in terms of frugivory by investigating behavioural, physiological and morphological aspects of fruit selection in generalist avian dispersers. This was achieved by manipulating the nutritional content, size and colour of fruits (artificial fruits) under controlled conditions. The first part of the dissertation addresses physiological aspects of fruit selection in Red-winged Starling Onychognathus morio, Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus and Dark-Capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor. Assimilation efficiency of birds fed glucose and sucrose diet treatments of varying concentration was observed. All study species showed high apparent assimilation efficiency irrespective of artificial fruit sugar concentration and type (with the exception of Red-winged Starlings on an all sucrose diet). The second part of the dissertation addresses behavioural aspects of fruit selection in the same three species by observing selective preferences between glucose and sucrose fruits of varying concentration and molarity. While Mousebirds displayed no preference for any of the diet treatments, Bulbuls occasionally favoured glucose diets over sucrose diets and Starlings always favoured glucose diets over sucrose diets. Another behavioural aspect of fruit selection was addressed in the third part of the dissertation. Colour preferences of Red-winged Starling and Speckled Mousebird were observed. Although study species did not conform to trends by favouring black and red fruits, they did show avoidance of green fruits and (Starlings) presented evidence of learning. A morphological aspect of fruit selection is presented in the fourth part of the dissertation. Starlings, Bulbuls and Mousebird beak morphology was measured to investigate if this has an effect on fruit size preferences. Starlings with the largest beak dimensions were more selective of fruit size classes than Bulbuls and Mousebirds which displayed the importance of feeding method (thrashing/swallowing/mashing) to compensate for larger fruit sizes. The final section of this dissertation is a synthesis of the observed behavioural, physiological and morphological aspects of fruit selection in Red-winged Starlings, Dark-capped Bulbuls and Speckled-Mousebirds.
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