Body temperature maintenance acclimates in a winter-tenacious songbird

Maria Stager, Nathan R. Senner, Bret W. Tobalske, Zachary A. Cheviron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Flexibility in heat generation and dissipation mechanisms provides endotherms the ability to match their thermoregulatory strategy with external demands. However, the degree to which these two mechanisms account for seasonal changes in body temperature regulation is little explored. Here, we present novel data on the regulation of avian body temperature to investigate how birds alter mechanisms of heat production and heat conservation to deal with variation in ambient conditions. We subjected dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) to chronic cold acclimations of varying duration and subsequently quantified their metabolic rates, thermal conductance and ability to maintain normothermia. Cold-acclimated birds adjusted traits related to both heat generation (increased summit metabolic rate) and heat conservation (decreased conductance) to improve their body temperature regulation. Increases in summit metabolic rate occurred rapidly, but plateaued after 1 week of cold exposure. In contrast, changes to conductance occurred only after 9 weeks of cold exposure. Thus, the ability to maintain body temperature continued to improve throughout the experiment, but the mechanisms underlying this improvement changed through time. Our results demonstrate the ability of birds to adjust thermoregulatory strategies in response to thermal cues and reveal that birds may combine multiple responses to meet the specific demands of their environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb221853
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Seasonality
  • Summit metabolic rate
  • Thermal conductance
  • Thermoregulation


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