, Volume 178, Issue 4, pp 1077–1091 | Cite as

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

  • Jorge S. GutiérrezEmail author
  • Andrea Soriano-Redondo
  • Anne Dekinga
  • Auxiliadora Villegas
  • José A. Masero
  • Theunis Piersma
Physiological ecology - Original research


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.


Osmoregulation Phenotypic flexibility Shorebird Thermoregulation Water–salt balance 



We are grateful to the fellow members of the Department of Marine Ecology of NIOZ for helpful suggestions and comments during the course of the experiment. We thank Maarten Brugge for technical support; Ewout Adriaans, Sander Holthuijsen and Job ten Horn for help collecting mud snails; Wim Boer for analysing Na+ concentrations in samples of mud snails; Allert I. Bijleveld, Thomas Oudman and Eldar N. Rakhimberdiev for advice on statistical analyses; and David Chivall for improving the English. Indrikis Krams, Hannu J. Ylonen and two anonymous reviewers made helpful comments that considerably improved the manuscript. Bird handling and experimental protocols were carried out under a permit from the animal experiment committee of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW DEC; protocol NIOZ. 13.02). This research was supported by a NIOZ operating grant to T. P., by a postdoctoral grant from the Government of Extremadura (PO12025) to J. S. G. and by the project CGL2011-27485 (Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jorge S. Gutiérrez
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Andrea Soriano-Redondo
    • 1
    • 3
  • Anne Dekinga
    • 1
  • Auxiliadora Villegas
    • 2
  • José A. Masero
    • 2
  • Theunis Piersma
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Marine EcologyRoyal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)Den BurgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Conservation Biology Research Group, Department of Anatomy, Cell Biology and Zoology, Faculty of SciencesUniversity of ExtremaduraBadajozSpain
  3. 3.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of ExeterCornwallUK
  4. 4.Animal Ecology Group, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES)University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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