Are levels of digestive enzyme activity related to the natural diet in passerine birds?
Digestive capabilities, such as the rates nutrient hydrolysis and absorption, may affect energy intake and ultimately feeding behavior. In birds, a high diversity in gut biochemical capabilities seems to support the existence of a correlation between the morphology and physiology of the intestinal tract and chemical features of the natural diet. However, studies correlating the activity of digestive enzymes and the feeding habits at an evolutionary scale are scarce. We investigated the effect of dietary habits on the digestive physiological characteristics of eight species of passerine birds from Central Chile. The Order Passeriformes is a speciose group with a broad dietary spectrum that includes omnivorous, granivorous and insectivorous species. We measured the activity of three enzymes: maltase, sucrase and aminopeptidase-N. Using an autocorrelation analysis to remove the phylogenetic effect, we found that dietary habits had no effect on enzymatic activity. However, we found that granivorous and omnivorous species had higher levels of disaccharidase activities and insectivores had the lowest. The major difference in enzymatic activity found at the inter-specific level, compared to the reported lower magnitude of enzyme modulation owing to dietary acclimation, suggests that these differences to some extent have a genetic basis. However, the lack of a clear association between diet categories and gut physiology suggested us that dietary categorizations do not always reflect the chemical composition of the ingested food.