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J Exp Biol. 2001 Jun;204(Pt 12):2133-44.

Heart rate as an indicator of oxygen consumption: influence of body condition in the king penguin.

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


The use of heart rate to estimate field metabolic rate has become a more widely used technique. However, this method also has some limitations, among which is the possible impact that several variables such as sex, body condition (i.e. body fat stores) and/or inactivity might have on the relationship between heart rate and rate of oxygen consumption. In the present study, we investigate the extent to which body condition can affect the use of heart rate as an indicator of the rate of oxygen consumption. Twenty-two breeding king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) were exercised on a variable-speed treadmill. These birds were allocated to four groups according to their sex and whether or not they had been fasting. Linear regression equations were used to describe the relationship between heart rate and the rate of oxygen consumption for each group. There were significant differences between the regression equations for the four groups. Good relationships were obtained between resting and active oxygen pulses and an index of the body condition of the birds. Validation experiments on six courting king penguins showed that the use of a combination of resting oxygen pulse and active oxygen pulse gave the best estimate of the rate of oxygen consumption V(O2). The mean percentage error between predicted and measured V(O2) was only +0.81% for the six birds. We conclude that heart rate can be used to estimate rate of oxygen consumption in free-ranging king penguins even over a small time scale (30 min). However, (i) the type of activity of the bird must be known and (ii) the body condition of the bird must be accurately determined. More investigations on the impact of fasting and/or inactivity on this relationship are required to refine these estimates further.

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