Metabolic partitioning of sucrose and seasonal changes in fat turnover rate in ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Morag F. Dick, Antonio Alcantara-Tangonan, Yazan Shamli Oghli, and Kenneth C. Welch

Hummingbirds fuel their high energy needs with the fructose and glucose in their nectar diets. These sugars are used both to fuel immediate energy needs and to build fat stores to fuel future fasting periods. Fasting hummingbirds can deplete energy stores in only hours and need to be continuously replacing these stores while feeding and foraging. Whether and how hummingbirds partition dietary fructose and glucose towards immediate oxidation versus fat storage is unknown. Using a chronic stable isotope tracer methodology, we examined whether glucose or fructose is preferentially used for de novo lipogenesis in ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Potential seasonal changes were correlated with variation in the overall daily energy expenditure. We fed ruby-throated hummingbirds sucrose-based diets enriched with 13C on either the glucose or the fructose portion of the disaccharide for 5 days. Isotopic incorporation into fat stores was measured via the breath 13C signature while fasting (oxidizing fat) during the winter and summer seasons. We found greater isotopic enrichment of fat stores when glucose was labelled compared with fructose, suggesting preference for glucose as a substrate for fatty acid synthesis. We also found a seasonal effect on fat turnover rate. Faster turnover rates occurred during the summer months, when birds maintained lower body mass, fat stores and exhibited higher daily nectar intake compared with winter. This demonstrates that fat turnover rate can substantially vary with changing energy expenditure and body composition; however, the partitioning of sucrose towards de novo fatty acid synthesis remains constant.

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