High daily energy expenditure of incubating shorebirds on High Arctic tundra: A circumpolar study

T. Piersma*, Å. Lindström, R.H. Drent, Ingrid Tulp, J. Jukema, R.I.G. Morrison, J. Reneerkens, H. Schekkerman, G.H. Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

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1. Given the allometric scaling of thermoregulatory capacity in birds, and the cold and exposed Arctic environment, it was predicted that Arctic-breeding shorebirds should incur high costs during incubation. Using doubly labelled water (DLW), daily energy expenditure (DEE) during incubation was measured in eight shorebird species weighing between 29 and 142 g at various sites in the Eurasian and Canadian High Arctic. The results are compared with a compilation of similar data for birds at lower latitudes.

2. There was a significant positive correlation between species average DEE and body mass (DEE (kJ day(-1) )=28.12 BM (g)(0.524) , r(2)=0.90). The slopes of the allometric regression lines for DEE on body mass of tundra-breeding birds and lower latitude species (a sample mostly of passerines but including several shorebirds) are similar (0.548 vs 0.545). DEE is about 50% higher in birds on the tundra than in temperate breeding areas.

3. Data for radiomarked Red Knots for which the time budgets during DLW measurements were known, indicated that foraging away from the nest on open tundra is almost twice as costly as incubating a four-egg clutch.

4. During the incubation phase in the High Arctic, tundra-breeding shorebirds appear to incur among the highest DEE levels of any time of the year. The rates of energy expenditure measured here are among the highest reported in the literature so far, reaching inferred ceilings of sustainable energy turnover rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-362
Number of pages7
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2003


  • allometry
  • body size
  • doubly labelled water
  • energy budget
  • field metabolic rate
  • KNOT

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