Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 189, Issue 1, pp 131–141 | Cite as

Thermal physiology of a range-restricted desert lark

  • Ryno Kemp
  • Andrew E. McKechnieEmail author
Original Paper


Much recent work on avian physiological adaptation to desert environments has focused on larks (Passeriformes: Alaudidae). We tested the prediction that the threatened red lark (Calendulauda burra), a species restricted to very arid parts of South Africa and which is not known to drink, exhibits highly efficient evaporative cooling and makes pronounced use of facultative hyperthermia when exposed to high air temperatures (Ta). We also predicted that C. burra possesses similarly low basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total evaporative water loss (EWL) at moderate Ta as reported for species from the deserts of the Middle East. Rest-phase thermoregulation in C. burra was characterized by an unusually low lower critical limit of thermoneutrality at Ta = ~ 21 °C and a BMR of 0.317 ± 0.047 W, the lowest BMR relative to allometrically-expected values yet reported in any lark. During the diurnal active phase, red larks were able to tolerate Ta up to 50 °C, with the onset of panting occurring at Ta = 38 °C. Maximum EWL was 1.475 ± 0.107 g h− 1 at Ta = 50 °C, equivalent to 620% of minimum EWL at thermoneutrality. The maximum ratio of evaporative heat dissipation to metabolic heat production was 1.58, a value towards the lower end of the range reported for passerines. Our data support the prediction that C. burra shows metabolic traits similar to those of other larks inhabiting extremely arid climates, but not the notion that evaporative cooling at high Ta in this species is more efficient than in most passerines.


Alaudidae Basal metabolic rate Body temperature Calendulauda burra Evaporative water loss Heat tolerance 



Evaporative water loss


Basal metabolic rate


Resting metabolic rate


Evaporative heat loss


Metabolic heat production


Body mass


Air temperature


Body temperature


Lower critical limit of thermoneutrality


Upper critical limit of thermoneutrality



We thank Black Mountain Mine for allowing us to conduct research on their property in the Koa River Valley and Kobus Smit of Vedanta Resources for his assistance and support. We are grateful to Clarise Kemp and Marc Freeman for assistance in the field, and to an anonymous reviewer whose constructive comments greatly improved the quality of the manuscript. All procedures were approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of the University of Pretoria (protocol EC41-17) and the Research Ethics and Scientific Committee of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (protocol P17-29). Red larks were captured under permit from the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (FAUNA 1209/2017). This work was made possible by funding from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence at the FitzPatrick Institute and is also based on research supported in part by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Number 110506). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Research Foundation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.

Supplementary material

360_2018_1190_MOESM1_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12 KB)
360_2018_1190_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (3.9 mb)
Supplementary material 2: Typical red lark (Calendulauda burra) habitat at our study site at Black Mountain Conservation Area, Aggeneys, South Africa. (JPG 3945 KB)

Supplementary material 3: Red lark (Calendulauda burra) resting in a shaded microsite on a very hot day at Black Mountain Conservation Area, Aggeneys, South Africa. The air temperature at the time the video was recorded was 39 °C. (MP4 31812 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DST-NRF Centre of Excellence at the FitzPatrick Institute, Department of Zoology and EntomologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.South African Research Chair in Conservation Physiology, National Zoological GardenSouth African National Biodiversity InstitutePretoriaSouth Africa

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