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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2001 Mar-Apr;74(2):238-49.

Thermoregulation and the energetic significance of clustering behavior in the white-backed mousebird (Colius colius).

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School of Botany and Zoology, University of Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa.


Thermoregulation and the energetic significance of clustering behavior were assessed in the white-backed mousebird Colius colius. Basal metabolic rate was 40% below the predicted allometric values. Rest-phase body temperature (T(b)) was highly labile and as low as 26 degrees C. Rest-phase T(b) was not regulated with respect to a constant set point temperature, as occurs typically in endotherms. Rather, we observed periods of linear decreases in rest-phase T(b) at a rate dependent on ambient temperature (T(a)) and the number of individuals in a cluster. The apparent inability of individual mousebirds to maintain rest-phase homeothermy suggests that clustering behavior is obligatory in the defense of a rest-phase set point T(b). The low rest-phase body temperatures exhibited by single C. colius hence appear to represent a normothermic state rather than typical avian facultative hypothermia. The birds were able to make significant energy savings by means of clustering behavior. These energy savings were dependent on T(a) and the number of birds in the cluster. At a T(a) of 15 degrees C, the mean energy expenditure of each bird in a cluster of six was 50% of that of a single bird. The metabolic traits of C. colius are likely be adaptive in the arid habitats that this species inhabits.

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