Individual variation in thermogenic capacity is correlated with flight muscle size but not cellular metabolic capacity in American goldfinches (Spinus tristis)


Cold tolerance and overwinter survival are positively correlated with organismal thermogenic capacity (psummit metabolic rate [Msum]) in endotherms. Msum varies seasonally in smallbird populations and may be mechanistically associated with variation in flight muscle size or cellular metabolic capacity, but the relative roles of these traits as drivers of individual variation in thermogenic performance are poorly known. We measured flight muscle size by ultrasonography, pectoralis and supracoracoideus muscle masses, and muscular activities of key aerobic enzymes (citrate synthase, carnitine palmitoyl transferase, and β-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase) and correlated these measurements with Msum for individual American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) to test the hypotheses that muscle size and/or cellular metabolic capacity serve as prominent drivers of individual variation in organismal metabolic capacity. Ultrasonographic flight muscle size was weakly positively correlated with Msum (Pp0.054). Both log10-transformed Msum and flight muscle mass were significantly correlated with log10 body mass, so we calculated allometric residuals for log Msum and for log flight muscle mass to test their correlation independent of body mass. Flight muscle mass residuals were significantly positively correlated with Msum residuals, and this correlation was primarily driven by variation in pectoralis muscle mass. In contrast, none of the mass-specific activities of any enzyme in any muscle were significantly correlated with Msum. These data suggest that flight muscle size, not cellular metabolic capacity, is the primary driver of individual variation in thermogenic performance in goldfinches. This is consistent with the idea that phenotypic flexibility of flight muscle mass is a general mechanism mediating variation in metabolic performance in response to changing energy demands in birds. © 2013 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Physiological and Biochemical Zoology