Red knots (Calidris canutus islandica) manage body mass with dieting and activity

Kimberley J. Mathot*, Eva M.A. Kok, Piet van den Hout, Anne Dekinga, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

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Mass regulation in birds is well documented. For example, birds can increase body mass in response to lower availability and/or predictability of food and decrease body mass in response to increased predation danger. Birds also demonstrate an ability to maintain body mass across a range of food qualities. Although the adaptive significance of mass regulation has received a great deal of theoretical and empirical attention, the mechanisms by which birds achieve this have not. Several non-exclusive mechanisms could facilitate mass regulation in birds. Birds could regulate body mass by adjusting food intake (dieting), activity, baseline energetic requirements (basal metabolic rate), mitochondrial efficiency or assimilation efficiency. Here, we present the results of two experiments in captive red knots (Calidris canutus islandica) that assess three of these proposed mechanisms: dieting, activity and up- and down-regulation of metabolic rate. In the first experiment, knots were exposed to cues of predation risk that led them to exhibit presumably adaptive mass loss. In the second experiment, knots maintained constant body mass despite being fed alternating high- and low-quality diets. In both experiments, regulation of body mass was achieved through a combination of changes in food intake and activity. Both experiments also provide some evidence for a role of metabolic adjustments. Taken together, these two experiments demonstrate that fine-scale management of body mass in knots is achieved through multiple mechanisms acting simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish
Article number jeb231993
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Experimental Biology
Issue numberPt 21
Publication statusPublished - 3-Nov-2020

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