The role of hyperthermia in the water economy of desert birds

Physiol Biochem Zool. Jan-Feb 1999;72(1):87-100. doi: 10.1086/316640.


A number of authors have suggested that hyperthermia, the elevation of body temperature (Tb) 2 degrees-4 degrees C above normal, contributes to a reduction in total evaporative water loss (TEWL) in birds. Information about the role of hyperthermia in the water economy of birds is scattered throughout the literature. We purposed to collate the available information on this subject, to reevaluate the benefits and costs of this process, and to assess its net effect on the water economy of birds, especially species living in deserts. In this review, we first consider the current model of heat balance in birds at high ambient temperatures (Ta), and show that, in most studies performed at a high Ta, birds were increasing their Tb, a violation of the assumption of steady state conditions. Next, we incorporate the rate of heat gain into calculations of the dry heat transfer coefficient (h), below and above temperature equality (Ta=Tb). We develop a method to calculate h at Ta=Tb, using l'Hôpital's rule. The combined result of our approach suggests that birds increase their dry heat transfer even when Ta is above Ta=Tb, contrary to our prediction. Finally, we explore aspects of hyperthermia that reduce water loss, such as an improved thermal gradient and heat storage, and aspects that may augment water loss, the latter a result of increased respiratory water loss when Tb is elevated. Our analysis of the combination of these three factors suggests that, during acute exposure to high Ta (1 h), birds over a size range of 10-1,000 g save about 50% of their TEWL by becoming hyperthermic. For chronic episodes of high Ta (5 h), small birds save water by hyperthermia but large birds do not.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Body Constitution
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Climate
  • Fever
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance*