Ecological correlates of variable organ sizes and fat loads in the most northerly wintering shorebirds

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Abstract:

Shorebirds at northern latitudes during the nonbreeding season typically carry relatively large lipid stores and exhibit an up-regulation of lean tissues associated with digestion and thermogenesis. Intraspecific variation in these tissues across sites primarily reflects differences in environmental conditions. Rock (Calidris ptilocnemis (Coues, 1873)) and Purple (Calidris maritima (Brünnich, 1764)) sandpipers are closely related species having the most northerly nonbreeding distributions among shorebirds, living at latitudes up to 61°N in Cook Inlet, Alaska, and up to ∼71°N in northern Norway, respectively. Cook Inlet is the coldest known site used by nonbreeding shorebirds, and the region’s mudflats annually experience extensive coverage of foraging sites by sea and shore-fast ice. Accordingly, Rock Sandpipers increase their fat stores to nearly 20% of body mass during winter. In contrast, Purple Sandpipers exploit predictably ice-free rocky intertidal foraging sites and maintain low (<6.5%) fat stores. Rock Sandpipers increase the mass of lean tissues from fall to winter, including contour feathers, stomach, and liver components. They also have greater lean pectoralis and supracoracoideus muscle and liver and kidney tissues compared with Purple Sandpipers in winter. This demonstrates a combined emphasis on digestive processes and thermogenesis, whereas Purple Sandpipers primarily augment organs associated with digestive processes. The high winter fat loads and increased lean tissues of Rock Sandpipers in Cook Inlet reflect the region’s persistent cold and abundant but sporadically unavailable food resources.

Keywords: Calidris maritima; Calidris ptilocnemis; Purple Sandpiper; Rock Sandpiper; bécasseau des Aléoutiennes; bécasseau violet; effets de la température; energetics; lipid stores; réserves de graisse; storage strategies; stratégies de constitution de réserves; temperature effects; thermogenesis; thermogénèse; énergétique

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/cjz-2013-0070

Affiliations: 1: U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 4210 University Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA. 2: NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, P.O. Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands. 3: Lismore, Mill Crescent, North Kessock, Inverness, IV1 3XY, Scotland.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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