Graduate Theses & Dissertations


effects of heat dissipation capacity on avian physiology and behaviour
In endotherms, physiological functioning is optimized within a narrow range of tissue temperatures, meaning that the capacity to dissipate body heat is an important parameter for thermoregulation and organismal performance. Yet, experimental research has found mixed support for the importance of heat dissipation capacity as a constraint on reproductive performance. To investigate the effects of heat dissipation capacity on organismal performance, I experimentally manipulated heat dissipation capacity in free-living tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, by trimming feathers overlying the brood patch, and monitored parental provisioning performance, body temperature, and offspring growth. I found that individuals with an enhanced capacity to dissipate body heat (i.e., trimmed treatment) provisioned their offspring more frequently, and reared larger offspring that fledged more consistently. Although control birds typically reduced their nestling provisioning rate at the highest ambient temperatures to avoid overheating, at times they became hyperthermic. Additionally, I examined inter-individual variation in body temperature within each treatment, and discovered that body temperature is variable among all individuals. This variability is also consistent over time (i.e., is repeatable), irrespective of treatment. Further, I found that individuals consistently differed in how they adjusted their body temperature across ambient temperature, demonstrating that body temperature is a flexible and repeatable physiological trait. Finally, I used a bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide) to examine the regulation of body temperature of captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) during an immune challenge. Exposure to lipopolysaccharide induces sickness behaviours, and results in a fever, hypothermia, or a combination of the two, depending on species and dosage. I asked what the relative role of different regions of the body (bill, eye region, and leg) is in heat dissipation/retention during the sickness-induced body temperature response. I found that immune-challenged individuals modulated their subcutaneous temperature primarily through alterations in peripheral blood flow, particularly in the legs and feet, detectable as a drop in surface temperature. These results demonstrate that the importance of regional differences in regulating body temperature in different contexts. Taken together, my thesis demonstrates that heat dissipation capacity can affect performance and reproductive success in birds. Author Keywords: body temperature, heat dissipation, tree swallow, zebra finch
role of corticosterone in breeding effort and reproductive success in tree swallows
Glucocorticoids (e.g., corticosterone (CORT)) are hypothesized to mediate decisions regarding reproductive investment during breeding, but the directionality of the relationship is not clear. The CORT-fitness hypothesis posits that high levels of CORT arise from challenging environmental conditions in which an individual will conserve resources for future reproduction or self-maintenance, and thus result in lower reproductive success (a negative relationship). In contrast, the CORT-adaptation hypothesis suggests that, during energetically demanding periods, CORT will mediate physiological or behavioural changes that result in increased reproductive investment and success (a positive relationship). Inconsistencies arise due to the various species and life-history stages studied, and the complex interactions between fitness and glucocorticoids. Using an experimental approach, I investigated the relationship between CORT and reproductive success by manipulating baseline CORT levels in female tree swallows Tachycineta bicolor prior to laying using silastic implants. Implants failed to raise CORT levels of females during either incubation or the nestling stage, and maternal treatment had no effect on indices of fitness at either stage. Using a correlative approach, partial support for the CORT-adaptation hypothesis was found: There was a positive relationship between CORT and hatching success. This only occurred when CORT was measured during incubation, when baseline CORT levels may stimulate increased reproductive effort and success. In contrast, during the nestling stage baseline CORT levels were not related to reproductive investment or success. Maternal CORT levels during incubation also did not influence nestling phenotype, although nestling stress CORT levels were higher in individuals that survived to fledging. In conclusion, CORT mediates reproductive effort and success during some breeding stages, but it is still unclear why this is the case and whether this same pattern will prevail in other contexts. Author Keywords: corticosterone, HPA axis, maternal effects, reproductive success, tree swallow


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