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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2013 Feb;164(2):314-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2012.10.027. Epub 2012 Oct 26.

Osmoregulatory and metabolic costs of salt excretion in the Rufous-collared sparrow Zonotrichia capensis.

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  • 1Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Chile, Casilla 653, Santiago, Chile.


Recent experiments on shorebirds have demonstrated that maintaining an active osmoregulatory machinery is energetically expensive. This may, in part, explain diet and habitat selection in birds with salt glands. However little is known about the osmoregulatory costs in birds lacking functional salt glands. In these birds, osmotic work is done almost exclusively by the kidneys. We investigated the osmoregulatory cost in a bird species lacking functional salt glands, the passerine Zonotrichia capensis. After 20 days of acclimation to fresh water (FW) and salt water (200 mM NaCl, SW), SW birds tended to be heavier than FW birds. However, this difference was not statistically significant. Total basal metabolic rate was higher in SW birds as compared with FW birds. Renal and heart masses were also higher in the SW group. We also found greater medullary development and an increase in urine osmolality in the SW group. In spite of Z. capensis' ability to tolerate a moderate salt load in the laboratory, we hypothesize that increased cost of maintenance produced by salt consumption may significantly affect energy budget, dietary, and habitat choices in the field.

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