Ardea
Official journal of the Netherlands Ornithologists' Union

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Cianchetti Benedetti M., Fusani L., Bonanni R., Cardinale M. & Carere C. (2013) Condition-dependent nocturnal hypothermia in Garden Warblers Sylvia borin at a spring stopover site. ARDEA 101 (2): 113-119
Migratory birds have evolved physiological and behavioural adaptations for crossing large ecological barriers through the accumulation of large amounts of fat and protein during the pre-migratory phase. Nevertheless, most migrant passerines usually need several stopovers en route to replenish their energy reserves and to rest. Migratory decisions at a stopover site strongly depend on body condition at arrival. Previous studies showed that lean birds prolong their stopover compared with fat birds that leave after a very short time. During the stopover, lean birds may reduce their metabolic costs by lowering body temperature (adaptive hypothermia hypothesis). However, it is not clear whether hypothermia can be an active economising strategy or just an unavoidable consequence of bad condition to avoid starvation. We used temperature loggers to measure skin temperature of 19 Garden Warblers Sylvia borin caught at a spring stopover site (Ponza Island, Tyrrhenian Sea) and kept overnight in cotton bags. We found that both body condition and activity were positively correlated with skin temperature during the night. The data showed a gradual nocturnal temperature drop of more than 3C in lean birds, particularly in the central part of the night, followed by a recovery to normothermic levels. Overall, birds in worse physical condition lost more body mass during the night than birds in better condition, but this was especially true for birds that lowered their body temperature the least. These results indicate that hypothermia is associated with low body condition and that it may be functional by reducing body mass loss during migration.


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