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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2005 Sep-Oct;78(5):766-81. Epub 2005 Aug 1.

To what extent is the foraging behaviour of aquatic birds constrained by their physiology?

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  • 1School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2TT, United Kingdom.


Aquatic birds have access to limited amounts of usable oxygen when they forage (dive) underwater, so the major physiological constraint to their behaviour is the need to periodically visit the water surface to replenish these stores and remove accumulated carbon dioxide. The size of the oxygen stores and the rate at which they are used (V dot o2) or carbon dioxide accumulates are the ultimate determinants of the duration that aquatic birds can remain feeding underwater. However, the assumption that the decision to terminate a dive is governed solely by the level of the respiratory stores is not always valid. Quantification of an optimal diving model for tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula) shows that while they dive efficiently by spending a minimum amount of time on the surface to replenish the oxygen used during a dive, they dive with nearly full oxygen stores and surface well before these stores are exhausted. The rates of carbon dioxide production during dives and removal during surface intervals are likely to be at least as important a constraint as oxygen; thus, further developments of optimal diving models should account for their effects. In the field, diving birds will adapt to changing environmental conditions and often maximise the time spent submerged during diving bouts. However, other factors influence the diving depths and durations of aquatic birds, and in some circumstances they are unable to forage sufficiently well to provide food for their offspring. The latest developments in telemetry have demonstrated how diving birds can make physiological decisions based on complex environmental factors. Diving penguins can control their inhaled air volume to match the expected depth, likely prey encounter rate, and buoyancy challenges of the following dive.

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