The high-energy aerial insectivore lifestyle of swallows does not produce clear thermogenic side effects


Ecological traits related to pace of life, such as foraging strategies and activity levels, influence daily energy expenditure (DEE) and can affect fitness. A fast pace of life tends to be supported by high-energy aerobic activity and is positively correlated with high DEE and basal and maximal metabolic rates in some endotherms. Given that maximal capacities for exercise and thermogenesis are both functions of aerobic muscle output and are often positively correlated with each other, high-energy aerobic lifestyles might be associated with high aerobic capacities, which would be expected to produce high thermogenic capacities as a side effect. We tested whether the high-energy aerial insectivore lifestyle in swallows is correlated with elevated basal and maximal thermogenic metabolic rates. We measured basal (BMR) and summit (Msum = maximum cold-induced metabolic rate) metabolic rates in 6 species of swallows (Hirundinidae) and combined these data with literature data for additional swallows (n = 10 for BMR; n = 8 for Msum) and non-aerial insectivore birds (n = 215 for BMR; n = 64 for Msum) to address the hypothesis that swallows have higher BMR and Msum than non-aerial insectivores. BMR in swallows was significantly higher than for non-aerial insectivore birds for phylogenetically adjusted analyses after correcting for body mass and region of origin (tropical vs. temperate). In contrast, Msum did not differ significantly between swallows and non-aerial insectivores. Thermogenic scope (Msum - BMR), however, was lower in tropical non-aerial insectivore birds compared with tropical swallows and temperate birds. This suggests that the aerial insectivore lifestyle elevates maintenance costs, but maximum thermogenic capacities are not clearly upregulated, despite tropical swallows having higher thermogenic scope than tropical non-aerial insectivores. These data suggest that the high-energy aerial insectivore lifestyle does not produce strong thermogenic side effects in swallows. LAY SUMMARY Animals have different lifestyles or paces of life that influence the amount of energy used per day. Swallows are aerial insectivores and have an active lifestyle that could lead to higher metabolic capacities at both basal and maximal levels. We measured basal and maximum cold-induced metabolic rates in swallows and compared these with non-aerial insectivore birds to test if swallows have higher basal and maximum metabolic capacities. We found that swallows have higher basal metabolic rates but not maximum cold-induced metabolic rates compared with other non-aerial insectivore birds. The results suggest that the active lifestyle of swallows required more energy for maintenance but did not produce high thermogenic capacities as a byproduct.

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