Mechanistic drivers of flexibility in summit metabolic rates of small birds


Flexible metabolic phenotypes allow animals to adjust physiology to better fit ecological or environmental demands, thereby influencing fitness. Summit metabolic rate (Msum = maximal thermogenic capacity) is one such flexible trait. Skeletal muscle and heart masses and myocyte metabolic intensity are potential drivers of Msum flexibility in birds. We examined correlations of skeletal muscle and heart masses and pectoralis muscle citrate synthase (CS) activity (an indicator of cellular metabolic intensity) with Msum in house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) to determine whether these traits are associated with M sum variation. Pectoralis mass was positively correlated with M sum for both species, but no significant correlation remained for either species after accounting for body mass (Mb) variation. Combined flight and leg muscle masses were also not significantly correlated with Msum for either species. In contrast, heart mass was significantly positively correlated with Msum for juncos and nearly so (P = 0.054) for sparrows. Mass-specific and total pectoralis CS activities were significantly positively correlated with Msum for sparrows, but not for juncos. Thus, myocyte metabolic intensity influences Msum variation in house sparrows, although the stronger correlation of total (r = 0.495) than mass-specific (r = 0.378) CS activity with Msum suggests that both pectoralis mass and metabolic intensity impact Msum. In contrast, neither skeletal muscle masses nor pectoralis metabolic intensity varied with Msum in juncos. However, heart mass was associated with Msum variation in both species. These data suggest that drivers of metabolic flexibility are not uniform among bird species. © 2014 Swanson et al.

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