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Phylogeny and herbivory are related to avian cecal size.


ABSTRACT: Avian ceca, a pair of blind sacs arising from the junction of the ileum and colon, are homologous to the cecum in mammals. Cecal size is hypothesized to depend on dietary proclivities and pressures, with faunivorous species having short ceca, whereas herbivorous species have long ceca. Previous tests of this hypothesis, however, did not account for phylogenetic pseudoreplication among closely related taxa. We collated published data on cecal length, dietary category, flying ability, and body mass from 155 avian taxa. Character states were mapped onto a phylogenetic framework, and the permutation tail probability test was used to detect phylogenetic signal in each character. Phylogenetic signal is significant among the characters. As with the cecoappendicular complex in mammals, closely-related birds tend to have similar cecal length. To account for phylogenetic pseudoreplication, we performed phylogenetic generalized least squares regression on cecal length and body mass with dietary category, superordinal-level clade, and flying ability as cofactors. The best-fitting regression model supports the dietary hypothesis for the avian cecum. Among sampled birds of comparable body mass, mean cecal length is significantly longer in herbivorous species than in carnivorous ones (p = 0.008), presumably allowing the extraction of nutrients without the burden of fermenting bulky masses of dietary fiber. Exceptions to this trend, however, suggest that avian ceca are functionally complex and may have additional roles in water balance and nitrogen recycling.

SUBMITTER: Hunt A 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6414633 | BioStudies | 2019-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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