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Physiol Biochem Zool. 1999 Mar-Apr;72(2):170-8.

Energy metabolism and body temperature of barn owls fasting in the cold.

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  • 1Centre d'Ecologie et Physiologie Energétiques, associé à l'Université Louis Pasteur, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 23 rue Becquerel, F-67087 Strasbourg Cedex 02, France.


Energetic adaptation to fasting in the cold has been investigated in a nocturnal raptor, the barn owl (Tyto alba), during winter. Metabolic rate and body temperature (Tb) were monitored in captive birds, (1) after acute exposure to different ambient temperatures (Ta), and (2) during a prolonged fast in the cold (4 degrees C), to take into account the three characteristic phases of body fuel utilization that occur during a long-term but reversible fast. In postabsorptive birds, metabolic rate in the thermoneutral zone was 4. 1+/-0.1 W kg-1 and increased linearly below a lower critical temperature of 23 degrees C. Metabolic rate was 70% above basal at +4 degrees C Ta. Wet thermal conductance was 0.22 W kg-1 degrees C-1. During fasting in the cold, the mass-specific resting metabolic rate decreased by 16% during the first day (phase I) and remained constant thereafter. The amplitude of the daily rhythm in Tb was only moderately increased during phase II, with a slight lowering (0. 6 degrees C) in minimal diurnal Tb, but rose markedly in phase III with a larger drop (1.4 degrees C) in minimal diurnal Tb. Refeeding the birds ended phase III and reversed the observed changes. These results indicate that diurnal hypothermia may be used in long-term fasting barn owls and could be triggered by a threshold of body lipid depletion, according to the shift from lipid to protein fuel metabolism occurring at the phase II/phase III transition. The high cost of regulatory thermogenesis and the limited use of hypothermia during fasting may contribute to the high mortality of barn owls during winter.

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