Flexibility in basal metabolic rate and evaporative water loss among hoopoe larks exposed to different environmental temperatures

JB Williams*, BI Tieleman

*Corresponding author for this work

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The 'energy demand' hypothesis for short-term adjustments in basal metabolic rate (BMR) posits that birds adjust the size of their internal organs relative to food intake, a correlate of energy demand, We tested this hypothesis on hoopoe larks (Alaemon alaudipes), inhabitants of the Arabian desert, by acclimating birds for 3 weeks at 15 degreesC and at 36 degreesC, then measuring their BMR and total evaporative water loss (TEWL), Thereafter, we determined the dry masses of their brain, heart, liver, kidney, stomach, intestine and muscles of the pectoral region. Although mean body mass did not differ initially between the two groups, after 3 weeks, birds in the 15 degreesC group had gained mass (44.1+/-6.5g), whereas larks in the 36 degreesC group had maintained a constant mass (36.6+/-3.6g; means +/- S.D., N=6).

Birds in the 15 degreesC group had a mean BMR of 46.8+/-6.9kJday(-1), whereas birds in the 36 degreesC group had a BMR of 32.9+/-6.3kJday(-1), values that were significantly different when we controlled for differences in body mass. When measured at 35 degreesC, larks in the cold-exposure group had a TEWL of 3.55+/-0.60gH(2)Oday(-1), whereas TEWL for birds in the 36 degreesC group averaged 2.23+/-0.28gH(2)Oday(-1), a difference of 59,2%, Mass-independent TEWL differed significantly between groups,

Larks in the 15 degreesC group had a significantly larger liver, kidney and intestine than larks in the 36 degreesC group. The total increase in organ mass contributed 14.3 % towards the total mass increment in the cold exposure group, Increased food intake among larks in the cold group apparently resulted in enlargement of some of the internal organs, and the increase in mass of these organs required a higher rate of oxygen uptake to support them. As oxygen demands increased, larks apparently lost more evaporative water, but the relationship between increases in BMR and TEWL remains unresolved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3153-3159
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2000


  • phenotypic plasticity
  • hoopoe lark
  • Alaemon alaudipes
  • Arabian desert
  • basal metabolic rate
  • total evaporative water loss
  • energy demand

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