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PLoS One. 2008 Sep 23;3(9):e3261. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003261.

Environment, migratory tendency, phylogeny and basal metabolic rate in birds.

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  • 1Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.


Basal metabolic rate (BMR) represents the minimum maintenance energy requirement of an endotherm and has far-reaching consequences for interactions between animals and their environments. Avian BMR exhibits considerable variation that is independent of body mass. Some long-distance migrants have been found to exhibit particularly high BMR, traditionally interpreted as being related to the energetic demands of long-distance migration. Here we use a global dataset to evaluate differences in BMR between migrants and non-migrants, and to examine the effects of environmental variables. The BMR of migrant species is significantly higher than that of non-migrants. Intriguingly, while the elevated BMR of migrants on their breeding grounds may reflect the metabolic machinery required for long-distance movements, an alternative (and statistically stronger) explanation is their occupation of predominantly cold high-latitude breeding areas. Among several environmental predictors, average annual temperature has the strongest effect on BMR, with a 50% reduction associated with a 20 degrees C gradient. The negative effects of temperature variables on BMR hold separately for migrants and non-migrants and are not due their different climatic associations. BMR in migrants shows a much lower degree of phylogenetic inertia. Our findings indicate that migratory tendency need not necessarily be invoked to explain the higher BMR of migrants. A weaker phylogenetic signal observed in migrants supports the notion of strong phenotypic flexibility in this group which facilitates migration-related BMR adjustments that occur above and beyond environmental conditions. In contrast to the findings of previous analyses of mammalian BMR, primary productivity, aridity or precipitation variability do not appear to be important environmental correlates of avian BMR. The strong effects of temperature-related variables and varying phylogenetic effects reiterate the importance of addressing both broad-scale and individual-scale variation for understanding the determinants of BMR.

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