How salinity and temperature combine to affect physiological state and performance in red knots with contrasting non-breeding environments

Oecologia. 2015 Aug;178(4):1077-91. doi: 10.1007/s00442-015-3308-4. Epub 2015 Apr 9.


Migratory shorebirds inhabit environments that may yield contrasting salinity-temperature regimes-with widely varying osmoregulatory demands, even within a given species-and the question is: by which physiological means and at which organisational level do they show adjustments with respect to these demands? Red knots Calidris canutus winter in coastal areas over a range of latitudes. The nominal subspecies winters in salty areas in the tropics, whereas the subspecies Calidris canutus islandica winters in north-temperate regions of comparatively lower salinities and temperatures. In this study, both subspecies of red knot were acclimated to different salinity (28/40‰)-temperature (5/35 °C) combinations for 2-week periods. We then measured food/salt intakes, basal metabolic rate (BMR), body mass and temperature, fat and salt gland scores, gizzard mass, heat-shock proteins, heterophils/lymphocytes (H/L) ratio and plasma Na(+) to assess the responses of each taxon to osmoregulatory challenges. High salinity (HS)-warm-acclimated birds reduced food/salt intake, BMR, body mass, fat score and gizzard mass, showing that salt/heat loads constrained energy acquisition rates. Higher salt gland scores in saltier treatments indicated that its size was adjusted to higher osmoregulatory demands. Elevated plasma Na(+) and H/L ratio in high-salinity-warm-acclimated birds indicated that salt/heat loads might have a direct effect on the water-salt balance and stress responses of red knots. Subspecies had little or no effect on most measured parameters, suggesting that most adjustments reflect phenotypic flexibility rather than subspecific adaptations. Our results demonstrate how salinity and temperature affect various phenotypic traits in a migrant shorebird, highlighting the importance of considering these factors jointly when evaluating the environmental tolerances of air-breathing marine taxa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Breeding
  • Charadriiformes / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Salinity*
  • Seasons
  • Sodium Chloride / metabolism*
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Temperature*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance


  • Sodium Chloride