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Extremely low ambient temperature affects haematological parameters and body condition in wintering Great Tits (Parus major)

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Abstract

In high latitudes, thermoregulatory and behavioural adjustments of birds allow survival under extreme ambient temperatures, changing day length, and food availability. In such habitats with such fluctuating environmental conditions, dominant individuals in social species often monopolise safe microhabitats and food resources, which may lead to greater levels of stress in subordinates. The results of this study revealed that certain haematological indices of health state and body condition of wintering Great Tits (Parus major) were dependent on their sex and age under conditions of extreme ambient temperature. Heterophil and lymphocyte counts revealed a significant increase in heterophil/lymphocyte ratio (H/L) in female Great Tits during the course of cold spell, where the increase was detected mainly in the first year females. We also found that the condition of pectoral muscle during the cold spells deteriorated only in females, especially in the first year individuals. Since sex appears to be the most important predictor of the dominance rank and survival in Great Tit winter groups, elevated physiological stress in adult and first year females during cold spells may be explained in terms of increased resource monopolisation by dominant individuals.

Zusammenfassung

In großen Höhen machen es Vögeln thermoregulatorische und verhaltensbiologische Anpassungen möglich, unter extremen Umgebungstemperaturen und veränderten Tageslängen und Futterverfügbarkeit zu überleben. In solchen Habitaten mit ihren schwankenden Umgebungsbedingungen monopolisieren innerhalb von sozialen Arten oft dominante Tiere sichere Mikrohabitate und Futterreserven, was bei den subdominanten Artgenossen zu erhöhtem Stress führen kann. Die Ergebnisse dieser Untersuchung machen deutlich, dass bestimmte hämatologische Anzeiger für den Gesundheitsstatus und die körperliche Verfassung überwinternder Kohlmeisen (Parus major) bei extremen Umgebungstemperaturen von ihrem Alter und ihrem Geschlecht abhängig waren. Zählungen von Heterophilen und Lymphozyten ergaben einen signifikanten Anstieg der Heterophilen/Lymphozyten-Rate (H/L) bei weiblichen Kohlmeisen während Kälteeinbrüchen, wobei dieser Anstieg in erster Linie bei den Weibchen vom gleichen Jahr festgestellt wurde. Wir fanden außerdem, dass sich der Zustand des Herzmuskels während dieser Kälteeinbrüche verschlechterte, allerdings nur bei Weibchen und da auch nur bei denen vom gleichen Jahr. Da bei den Wintergruppen der Kohlmeisen das Geschlecht der wichtigste Prädiktor für Dominanz und Überleben zu sein scheint, kann bei adulten Weibchen vom gleichen Jahr erhöhter Stress während Kälteeinbrüchen möglicherweise mit massiverer Ressource-Monopolisierung durch dominante Individuen erklärt werden.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Peeter Hõrak and Mikus Abolins-Abols for their helpful comments on the manuscript and Aleksejs Osipovs for his help in the field. The study was supported by Latvian Science Foundation grant 07.2100 to I.K. All animal manipulations comply with the current laws of the Republic of Latvia.

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Correspondence to Indrikis Krams.

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Communicated by C. G. Guglielmo.

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Krams, I., Cīrule, D., Krama, T. et al. Extremely low ambient temperature affects haematological parameters and body condition in wintering Great Tits (Parus major). J Ornithol 152, 889–895 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-011-0672-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-011-0672-7

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