Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia
RESEARCH ARTICLE

The importance of winter-flowering Aloe ferox for specialist and generalist nectar-feeding birds

Timothy R. Kuiper A C , Diane L. Smith A , Milena H. L. Wolmarans A , Sara S. Jones A B , Ross W. Forbes A , Patrick E. Hulley A and Adrian J. F. K. Craig A

A Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, PO Box 94, Grahamstown, 6140, South Africa.

B Institut für Natur und Ressourcenschutz, Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Christian-Albrechts-Platz 4, Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein 24118, Germany.

C Corresponding author. Email: timothykuiper@gmail.com

Emu 115(1) 49-57 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU14054
Submitted: 29 May 2014  Accepted: 18 September 2014   Published: 9 February 2015

Abstract

The abundance of consumers and the availability of resources are often linked, and birds are known to track food resources at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. This study describes the seasonal influx of nectar-feeding birds during flowering in a 51-ha stand of Aloe ferox in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, over 5 years (2008–09 and 2011–13). Bimonthly point counts of birds were conducted before (April–May), during (June–July) and after (August) flowering, which occurs during the austral winter. The abundance of nectar-feeding birds increased significantly during flowering each year, whereas monthly abundances of non-nectarivores were unrelated to flowering. Models fitted to bird count-data revealed a significant interaction between feeding guild (nectarivorous versus non-nectarivorous species) and the percentage of flowering A. ferox over the 5 years of the study, confirming that these guilds responded differently to flowering events. Malachite Sunbirds (Nectarina famosa), which are specialist nectarivores, responded consistently to flowering of A. ferox each year, despite the low sugar concentrations of A. ferox nectar. The arrival of nectar-feeding birds en masse during flowering, and the number of bird species (16) observed feeding on A. ferox nectar, suggest that this plant is an important source of nutrition for birds at a time when other food resources are likely to be scarce.

Additional keywords: Nectarivore, resource tracking, seasonal flowering, sunbird, South Africa.


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