Plumage development and environmental factors influence surface temperature gradients and heat loss in wandering albatross chicks

Stone, D. W., Gunn, C., Nord, A., Phillips, R. A. and McCafferty, D. J. (2021) Plumage development and environmental factors influence surface temperature gradients and heat loss in wandering albatross chicks. Journal of Thermal Biology, 97, 102777. (doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2020.102777) (PMID:33863421)

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Abstract

Young birds in cold environments face a range of age-specific thermal challenges. Studying the thermal biology of young birds throughout ontogeny may further our understanding of how such challenges are met. We investigated how age and environmental parameters influenced surface temperature gradients across various body regions of wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) chicks on Bird Island, South Georgia. This study was carried out over a 200 d period during the austral winter, from the end of the brood-guard period until fledging, bridging a gap in knowledge of surface temperature variation and heat loss in developing birds with a long nestling stage in severe climatic conditions. We found that variation in surface temperature gradients (i.e., the difference between surface and environmental temperature) was strongly influenced by chick age effects for insulated body regions (trunk), with an increase in the surface temperature gradient that followed the progression of plumage development, from the second set of down (mesoptiles), to final chick feathers (teleoptiles). Environmental conditions (primarily wind speed and relative humidity) had a stronger influence on the gradients in uninsulated areas (eye, bill) than insulated regions, which we interpret as a reflection of the relative degree of homeothermy exhibited by chicks of a given age. Based on biophysical modelling, total heat loss of chicks was estimated to increase linearly with age. However, mass specific heat loss decreased during the early stages of growth and then subsequently increased. This was attributed to age-related changes in feather growth and activity that increased surface temperature and, hence, metabolic heat loss. These results provide a foundation for further work on the effects of environmental stressors on developing chicks, which are key to understanding the physiological responses of animals to changes in climate in polar regions.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:Andreas Nord was supported by the Birgit and Hellmuth Hertz Foundation/The Royal Physiographic Society of Lund (grant no. 2017-39034).
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:McCafferty, Dr Dominic and Nord, Dr Andreas and Stone, Mr David
Creator Roles:
Stone, D. W.Writing – original draft, Formal analysis, Writing – review and editing, Visualization
Nord, A.Formal analysis, Writing – review and editing, Supervision, Funding acquisition
McCafferty, D. J.Conceptualization, Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Writing – review and editing, Supervision
Authors: Stone, D. W., Gunn, C., Nord, A., Phillips, R. A., and McCafferty, D. J.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Journal of Thermal Biology
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0306-4565
ISSN (Online):1879-0992
Published Online:06 November 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Ltd
First Published:First published in Journal of Thermal Biology 97: 102777
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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