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J Comp Physiol B. 2012 Apr;182(3):381-92. doi: 10.1007/s00360-011-0625-8. Epub 2011 Oct 29.

Dominant black-capped chickadees pay no maintenance energy costs for their wintering status and are not better at enduring cold than subordinate individuals.

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Département de Biologie, chimie et géographie, Groupe de recherche sur les environnements nordiques BORÉAS, Centre d'études nordiques, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 300 Allée des Ursulines, Rimouski, QC, G5L 3A1, Canada.


Winter requires physiological adjustments in northern resident passerines. Cold acclimatization is generally associated with an increase in physiological maintenance costs, measured as basal metabolic rate (BMR), and cold endurance, reflected by summit metabolic rate (M(sum)). However, several northern species also form social groups in winter and a bird's hierarchical position may influence the size of its metabolically active organs as well as its BMR. Winter metabolic performance in these species may therefore reflect a complex set of adjustments to both seasonal climatic variations and social environment. We studied the effect of social status on parameters of cold acclimatization (body mass, size of fat reserves and pectoral muscles, BMR and M(sum)) in free-living black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). Birds that were structurally large and heavy for their body size, mostly dominant individuals, carried more fat reserves and had larger pectoral muscles. However, social status had little effect on metabolic performance in the cold. Indeed, M(sum) was independent of social rank while mass-corrected BMR was slightly lower in dominant individuals, likely due to a statistical dilution effect caused by large metabolically inactive fat reserves. BMR and M(sum), whether considered in terms of whole-animal values, corrected for body mass or body size were nevertheless correlated, suggesting a functional link between these metabolic components. Our results therefore indicate that the energy cost of social dominance is not a generalized phenomenon in small wintering birds.

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