Chemoreceptor control of heart rate and behaviour during diving in the tufted duck (Aythya fuligula)

J Physiol. 1988 Mar;397:63-80. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1988.sp016988.


1. The role of chemoreceptors in the control of heart rate and behaviour during diving activity in the tufted duck was investigated in two ways. In a closed-loop experiment, ducks were exposed to ambient gas mixtures of varied composition during diving activity in an indoor tank. Characteristics of diving behaviour, heart rate and deep body temperature were monitored under hypoxic, hyperoxic and hypercapnic conditions and compared with those in air. Secondly, in an open-loop experiment the role of the carotid body (CB) chemoreceptors in the control of the responses to altered inspired gas composition and in the cardiac responses to extended and enclosed dives (Stephenson, Butler & Woakes, 1986) was investigated by chronic bilateral denervation of these receptors. 2. Heart rate during submersion was unaffected by inspired gas composition in control (data from intact and sham-operated ducks combined) and CB-denervated ducks, though diving behaviour was significantly modified in both groups of animals in response to altered inspired gas composition. Hypoxia and hypercapnia resulted in an increase in the proportion of total diving time spent breathing at the surface. The main effect of hypoxia (9-10% O2) was to reduce dive duration in control ducks and this effect was almost completely abolished after CB denervation. Hypercapnia (5-6% CO2) reduced dive duration less markedly than hypoxia but it greatly increased the duration of the inter-dive interval, effects which were not significantly influenced by CB denervation. Hyperoxia (40-45% O2) had very little effect on either behaviour or heart rate during diving, although deep body temperature was significantly elevated in this gas mixture during diving activity. There was also a less marked, but nevertheless significant, apparent hyperthermia during diving activity in air on an indoor tank but not on an outdoor pond. Conversely, there was a significant apparent hypothermia during diving activity under hypoxic conditions. 3. The CB chemoreceptors were shown to play a role in cardiac control during diving under certain circumstances. The duration of pre-dive tachycardia was significantly increased in hypoxia and this increase was abolished after CB denervation. The rate of development of bradycardia during extended and enclosed dives was slowed following CB denervation, though the initiation of the responses in extended and enclosed dives and the eventual attainment of sub-resting heart rates in enclosed dives were not prevented, indicating that other, as yet unidentified, sensory inputs are involved in cardiac control under these conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Body Temperature
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology
  • Carotid Body / physiology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Denervation
  • Diving*
  • Ducks / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate* / drug effects
  • Male
  • Oxygen / pharmacology
  • Time Factors


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen