Does low daily energy expenditure drive low metabolic capacity in the tropical robin, Turdus grayi?

Research paper by Dominique N DN Wagner, Patrick M PM Mineo, Carrie C Sgueo, Martin M Wikelski, Paul J PJ Schaeffer

Indexed on: 05 Mar '13Published on: 05 Mar '13Published in: Journal of Comparative Physiology B


Temperate and tropical birds possess divergent life history strategies. Physiological parameters including energy metabolism correlate with the life history such that tropical species with a slower 'pace of life' have lower resting and maximal metabolic rates than temperate congeners. To better understand the physiological mechanisms underlying these differences, we investigated the relationship of metabolic capacity, muscle oxidative capacity and activity patterns to variation in life history patterns in American robins (Turdus migratorius), while resident in central North America and Clay-colored robins (Turdus grayi) resident in Panama. We measured summit metabolism [Formula: see text] in birds from both tropical and temperate habitats and found that the temperate robins have a 60 % higher metabolic capacity. We also measured the field metabolic rate (FMR) of free-living birds using heart rate (HR) telemetry and found that temperate robins' daily energy expenditure was also 60 % higher. Thus, [Formula: see text] and FMR both reflect life history differences between the species. Further, both species operate at a nearly identical ~50 % of their thermogenic capacity throughout a given day. As a potential mechanism to explain differences in activity and metabolic capacity, we ask whether oxidative properties of flight muscle are altered in accordance with life history variation and found minimal differences in oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle. These data demonstrate a close relationship between thermogenic capacity and daily activity in free-living birds. Further, they suggest that the slow pace of life in tropical birds may be related to the maintenance of low activity rather than functional capacity of the muscle tissue.