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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 22;273(1589):931-7.

Phenotypic plasticity in the scaling of avian basal metabolic rate.

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  • 1DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa.


Many birds exhibit short-term, reversible adjustments in basal metabolic rate (BMR), but the overall contribution of phenotypic plasticity to avian metabolic diversity remains unclear. The available BMR data include estimates from birds living in natural environments and captive-raised birds in more homogenous, artificial environments. All previous analyses of interspecific variation in BMR have pooled these data. We hypothesized that phenotypic plasticity is an important contributor to interspecific variation in avian BMR, and that captive-raised populations exhibit general differences in BMR compared to wild-caught populations. We tested this hypothesis by fitting general linear models to BMR data for 231 bird species, using the generalized least-squares approach to correct for phylogenetic relatedness when necessary. The scaling exponent relating BMR to body mass in captive-raised birds (0.670) was significantly shallower than in wild-caught birds (0.744). The differences in metabolic scaling between captive-raised and wild-caught birds persisted when migratory tendency and habitat aridity were controlled for. Our results reveal that phenotypic plasticity is a major contributor to avian interspecific metabolic variation. The finding that metabolic scaling in birds is partly determined by environmental factors provides further support for models that predict variation in scaling exponents, such as the allometric cascade model.

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