Reduced metabolic cost of locomotion in Svalbard rock ptarmigan (lagopus muta hyperborea) during winter

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Abstract

The Svalbard rock ptarmigan, Lagopus muta hyperborea experiences extreme photoperiodic and climatic conditions on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. This species, however, is highly adapted to live in this harsh environment. One of the most striking adaptations found in these birds is the deposition, prior to onset of winter, of fat stores which may comprise up to 32% of body mass and are located primarily around the sternum and abdominal region. This fat, while crucial to the birds' survival, also presents a challenge in that the bird must maintain normal physiological function with this additional mass. In particular these stores are likely to constrain the respiratory system, as the sternum and pelvic region must be moved during ventilation and carrying this extra load may also impact upon the energetic cost of locomotion. Here we demonstrate that winter birds have a reduced cost of locomotion when compared to summer birds. A remarkable finding given that during winter these birds have almost twice the body mass of those in summer. These results suggest that Svalbard ptarmigan are able to carry the additional winter fat without incurring any energetic cost. As energy conservation is paramount to these birds, minimising the costs of moving around when resources are limited would appear to be a key adaptation crucial for their survival in the barren Arctic environment.

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Lees, J., Nudds, R., Stokkan, K. A., Folkow, L., & Codd, J. (2010). Reduced metabolic cost of locomotion in Svalbard rock ptarmigan (lagopus muta hyperborea) during winter. PLoS ONE, 5(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0015490

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