Relative roles of temperature and photoperiod as drivers of metabolic flexibility in dark-eyed juncos


Seasonal phenotypic flexibility in small birds produces a winter phenotype with elevated maximum cold-induced metabolic rates (=summit metabolism, Msum). Temperature and photoperiod are candidates for drivers of seasonal phenotypes, but their relative impacts on metabolic variation are unknown. We examined photoperiod and temperature effects on Msum, muscle masses and activities of key catabolic enzymes in winter dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis). We randomly assigned birds to four treatment groups varying in temperature (cold=3°C; warm=24°C) and photoperiod [short day (SD)=8 h:16 h light:dark; long day (LD)=16 h:8 h light:dark] in a two-by-two design. We measured body mass (Mb), flight muscle width and Msum before and after 3 and 6 weeks of acclimation, and flight muscle and heart masses after 6 weeks. Msum increased for cold-exposed, but not for warm-exposed, birds. LD birds gained more Mb than SD birds, irrespective of temperature. Flight muscle size and mass did not differ significantly among groups, but heart mass was larger in cold-exposed birds. Citrate synthase, carnitine palmitoyl transferase and β-hydroxyacyl Co-A dehydrogenase activities in the pectoralis were generally higher for LD and cold groups. The coldinduced changes in Msum and heart mass parallel winter changes for small birds, but the larger Mb and higher catabolic enzyme activities in LD birds suggest photoperiod-induced changes associated with migratory disposition. Temperature appears to be a primary driver of flexibility in Msum in juncos, but photoperiod-induced changes in Mb and catabolic enzyme activities, likely associated with migratory disposition, interact with temperature to contribute to seasonal phenotypes.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Biology