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J Exp Biol. 2005 Mar;208(Pt 6):1025-34.

Can birds be ammonotelic? Nitrogen balance and excretion in two frugivores.

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Department of Biology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel.


We measured minimal nitrogen requirements (MNR), total endogenous nitrogen loss (TENL) and the effect of protein and water intake on the nitrogenous waste composition in two frugivorous bird species: yellow-vented bulbuls Pycnonotus xanthopygos and Tristram's grackles Onychognathus tristrami. The nitrogen requirements of both species were much lower than expected for their body mass. The two species differed in the composition of the nitrogenous waste that they produced. The grackles were uricotelic, and the chemical composition of their nitrogenous waste products was relatively independent of water and protein intake. In contrast, the bulbuls were 'apparently ammonotelic'. Their ammonotely was related to low protein intake and high water flux, and was the result of post-renal urine modification. We suggest two non-exclusive mechanisms for the post-renal modification of urine in these birds: bacterial catabolism of uric acid and reabsorption of uric acid in the hindgut. As uric acid functions both as a nitrogenous waste product and as an antioxidant, birds might benefit from its reabsorption.

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