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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 28;8(6):e68292. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068292. Print 2013.

Intra-seasonal flexibility in avian metabolic performance highlights the uncoupling of basal metabolic rate and thermogenic capacity.

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Département de Biologie, Chimie et Géographie, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Rimouski, QC, Canada.


Stochastic winter weather events are predicted to increase in occurrence and amplitude at northern latitudes and organisms are expected to cope through phenotypic flexibility. Small avian species wintering in these environments show acclimatization where basal metabolic rate (BMR) and maximal thermogenic capacity (MSUM) are typically elevated. However, little is known on intra-seasonal variation in metabolic performance and on how population trends truly reflect individual flexibility. Here we report intra-seasonal variation in metabolic parameters measured at the population and individual levels in black-capped chickadees (Poecileatricapillus). Results confirmed that population patterns indeed reflect flexibility at the individual level. They showed the expected increase in BMR (6%) and MSUM (34%) in winter relative to summer but also, and most importantly, that these parameters changed differently through time. BMR began its seasonal increase in November, while MSUM had already achieved more than 20% of its inter-seasonal increase by October, and declined to its starting level by March, while MSUM remained high. Although both parameters co-vary on a yearly scale, this mismatch in the timing of variation in winter BMR and MSUM likely reflects different constraints acting on different physiological components and therefore suggests a lack of functional link between these parameters.

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