Plasma Metabolites Reflect Seasonally Changing Metabolic Processes in a Long-Distance Migrant Shorebird (Calidris Canutus)

Zoology (Jena). 2002;105(3):239-46. doi: 10.1078/0944-2006-00066.


Migrant birds have tightly scheduled annual cycles consisting of several distinct life cycle (sub-)stages such as reproduction, migration, moult and overwintering, each of which have specific metabolic requirements (e.g., fattening during migration, protein build-up during moult). This study examines changes in fat and protein metabolism during the annual cycle of body mass and moult over 1.5 years in a captive flock of an arctic-breeding shorebird, the red knot Calidris canutus islandica. 2-5 h after food withdrawal, plasma uric acid levels were still decreasing and beta-hydroxy-butyrate levels were low, indicating prolonged catabolism of dietary protein, probably linked with a conversion into lipids. Such a late-resorptive state is achieved much earlier in passerines, but only after several days in penguins and, thus, seems to depend on meal size or mass-specific metabolic rate. Substages of body mass gain and high body mass were characterized by increased plasma triglyceride levels reflecting increased turnover of lipids, and low levels of the ketone body beta-hydroxy- butyrate, indicating that the bird is not short of glucose. The high uric acid levels during these substages indicated an increased breakdown of nutritional protein. During moult, plasma triglyceride levels were low, suggesting that lipids were less available than at other times of the year. It is concluded that plasma metabolite levels indicate the metabolic processes related to migratory fuelling and moult and the influence of exogeneous factors.