Nocturnal reductions in body temperature in high-elevation Neotropical birds

  • Keith BurnettEmail author
  • Matthew N. Zipple
  • Lauren T. Phillips
  • Pooja Panwar
  • Liam P. Mcguire
  • W. Alice Boyle
Short Communication


Seasonal and daily fluctuations in environmental temperature can affect the fitness of endotherms by increasing metabolic costs and energetic requirements. Consequently, some species adopt strategies that function to minimize costs, including minor circadian fluctuations in body temperature (Tb) and facultative reductions in Tb, known as heterothermy. The geographic and taxonomic patterns of variation in Tb are poorly-known, especially in the Neotropics. We investigated the diurnal variation in Tb of small birds inhabiting high-elevation Neotropical montane forests which must cope with predictably cool nighttime temperatures. Two-thirds of the individuals we measured lowered their Tb at night, and changes were greater when differences between daytime and nighttime ambient temperatures were greater. Our study expands the taxonomic and geographic scope of documented thermoregulatory flexibility in birds by demonstrating that even in the Neotropics, some montane birds may routinely adopt energy-saving physiological strategies. Such data are important to understanding and interpreting biogeographic patterns and behavior of tropical birds.


Alpine Body size Circadian rhythm Cloud forest Costa Rica Talamancas 



This project was conducted during the Organization for Tropical Studies’ “Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach” course #16-3. We thank OTS and Drs. Stynoski and Salerno for their scientific advice and logistical support. We thank Srs Solano and Torres at Cuericí for their expertise, logistical support, and permission to conduct research. All research was conducted under approved animal care and use protocols and research permits SINAC-SE-CUS-PI-R-0035-2016, obtained from the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía of Costa Rica. This is contribution no. 18-224-J of the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station. This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF-DEB 1646806).


  1. Angilletta MJ, Cooper BS, Schuler MS et al (2010) The evolution of thermal physiology in endotherms. Front Biosci E 2:861–881Google Scholar
  2. Aschoff J (1981) Der tagesgang der Körpertemperatur von vögeln als funktion des körpergewichtes. J Ornithol 122:129–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aschoff J (1983) Circadian control of body temperature. J Therm Biol 8:143–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boyle WA (2011) Short-distance partial migration of Neotropical birds: a community-level test of the foraging limitation hypothesis. Oikos 120:1803–1816CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boyles JG, Thompson AB, McKechnie AE et al (2013) A global heterothermic continuum in mammals. Global Ecol Biogeogr 22:1029–1039CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bucher TL, Worthington A (1982) Nocturnal hypothermia and oxygen consumption in manakins. Condor 84:327–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buckley LB, Khaliq I, Swanson DL et al (2018) Does metabolism constrain bird and mammal ranges and predict shifts in response to climate change? Ecol Evolut 8:12375–12385Google Scholar
  8. Butler MW, Stahlschmidt ZR, Ardia DR et al (2013) Thermal sensitivity of immune function: evidence against a generalist-specialist trade-off among endothermic and ectothermic vertebrates. Am Nat 181:761–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Calder WA (1971) Temperature relationships and nesting of the Calliope Hummingbird. Condor 73:314–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carere C, Van Oers K (2004) Shy and bold great tits (Parus major): body temperature and breath rate in response to handling stress. Physiol Behav 82:905–912CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clarke A, Portner H (2010) Temperature, metabolic power and the evolution of endothermy. Biol Rev 85:703–727. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Dawson A (2017) Daily cycles in body temperature in a songbird change with photoperiod and are weakly circadian. J Biol Rhythms 32:177–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Doucette LI, Brigham RM, Pavey CR et al (2011) Roost type influences torpor use by Australian owlet-nightjars. Naturwissenschaften 98:845CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Geiser F (1998) Evolution of daily torpor and hibernation in birds and mammals: importance of body size. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 25:736–740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hart J, Roy O (1967) Temperature regulation during flight in pigeons. Am J Physiol Leg Content 213:1311–1316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kern MD, Van Riper C (1984) Altitudinal variations in nests of the Hawaiian Honeycreeper Hemignathus virens virens. Condor 86:443–454. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lewden A, Nord A, Petit M et al (2017) Body temperature responses to handling stress in wintering Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus L.). Physiol Behav 179:49–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Londoño GA, Chappell MA, Jankowski JE et al (2017) Do thermoregulatory costs limit altitude distributions of Andean forest birds? Funct Ecol 31:204–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Maddocks TA, Geiser F (1997) Energetics, thermoregulation and nocturnal hypothermia in Australian silvereyes. Condor 99:104–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McKechnie AE, Lovegrove BG (2002) Avian facultative hypothermic responses: a review. Condor 104:705–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McKechnie AE, Mzilikazi N (2011) Heterothermy in Afrotropical mammals and birds: a review. Integr Comp Biol 51:349–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Merola-Zwartjes M, Ligon JD (2000) Ecological energetics of the Puerto Rican tody: heterothermy, torpor, and intra-island variation. Ecology 81:990–1003CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Millesi E, Prossinger H, Dittami J et al. (2001) Hibernation effects on memory in European ground squirrels (Spermophilus citellus). J Biol Rhythms 16:264–271. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Møller AP (2010) Body temperature and fever in a free-living bird. Comp Biochem Physiol B: Biochem Mol Biol 156:68–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Price ER, Dzialowski EM (2018) Development of endothermy in birds: patterns and mechanisms. J Comp Physiol B 188:373–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Prinzinger R, Pressmar A, Schleucher E (1991) Body temperature in birds. Comp Biochem Physiol A Physiol 99:499–506CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. R Core Team (2015) R: A language and environment for statistical computing version 2.3.4Google Scholar
  28. Romano AB, Hunt A, Welbergen JA et al (2019) Nocturnal torpor by superb fairy-wrens: a key mechanism for reducing winter daily energy expenditure. Biol Lett 15:20190211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ruf T, Geiser F (2015) Daily torpor and hibernation in birds and mammals. Biol Rev 90:891–926. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Schleucher E (2004) Torpor in birds: taxonomy, energetics, and ecology. Physiol Biochem Zool 77:942–949 (PBZ030099 [pii]) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Scholer MN, Arcese P, Puterman ML et al (2019) Survival is negatively related to basal metabolic rate in tropical Andean birds. Funct Ecol 33:1436–1445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Shipley JR, Gu DY, Salzman TC et al (2015) Heterothermic flexibility allows energetic savings in a small tropical swift: the Silver-rumped Spinetail (Rhaphidura leucopygialis). The Auk: Ornithol Adv 132:697–703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Skutch AF (1952) Life history of the blue and white swallow. Auk 69:392–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stiles FG (1983) Introduction to birds of Costa Rica. In: Janzen DH (ed) Costa Rican natural history. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 502–530Google Scholar
  35. Waite TA (1991) Nocturnal hypothermia in gray jays Perisoreus canadensis wintering in interior Alaska. Ornis Scand 22:107–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society for Tropical Ecology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith Burnett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew N. Zipple
    • 2
  • Lauren T. Phillips
    • 3
  • Pooja Panwar
    • 4
  • Liam P. Mcguire
    • 5
  • W. Alice Boyle
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Conservation Biology and Environmental ScienceUniversity of Hawaii at HiloHiloUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  6. 6.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

Personalised recommendations