Life-history characteristics influence physiological strategies to cope with hypoxia in Himalayan birds

S. Barve, A. A. Dhondt, V. B. Mathur, Z. A. Cheviron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Hypobaric hypoxia at high elevation represents an important physiological stressor for montane organisms, but optimal physiological strategies to cope with hypoxia may vary among species with different life histories. Montane birds exhibit a range of migration patterns; elevational migrants breed at high elevations but winter at low elevations or migrate further south, while high-elevation residents inhabit the same elevation throughout the year. Optimal physiological strategies to cope with hypoxia might therefore differ between species that exhibit these two migratory patterns, because they differ in the amount time spent at high elevation. We examined physiological parameters associated with blood-oxygen transport (haemoglobin concentration and haematocrit, i.e. the proportion of red blood cells in blood) in nine species of elevational migrants and six species of highelevation residents that were sampled along a 2200 m (1000-3200 m) elevational gradient. Haemoglobin concentration increased with elevation within species regardless of migratory strategy, but it was only significantly correlated with haematocrit in elevational migrants. Surprisingly, haemoglobin concentration was not correlated with haematocrit in high-elevation residents, and these species exhibited higher mean cellular haemoglobin concentration than elevational migrants. Thus, alternative physiological strategies to regulate haemoglobin concentration and blood O2 carrying capacity appear to differ among birds with different annual elevational movement patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20162201
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1843
StatePublished - Nov 30 2016


  • Birds
  • Comparative physiology
  • Elevational migration
  • Haematocrit
  • Haemoglobin concentration
  • Himalayas


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