Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Migration takes guts

07.07.2003


Birds modify digestive physiology during migration



When birds migrate over long distances to and from their breeding grounds, it takes more than strong flight muscles and an innate knowledge of where they’re going. According to a University of Rhode Island researcher, migration also takes guts.

Several studies conducted by URI physiological ecologist Scott McWilliams have shown that birds have a flexible digestive system that they modify to meet the changing energy demands of migration.


"The gut of a migratory bird is a really dynamic organ. In preparation for migration, the gut increases in size tremendously over several days," McWilliams said. "It expands, its cells get larger and it produces new cells so the bird can dramatically increase its food intake and store up energy for the long flight."

But because the digestive system is one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body and it consumes a great deal of energy, it shuts down during migration so more energy can be diverted to fueling flight. This partial atrophy of their digestive system affects birds when they stop to feed at sites along their migration route. McWilliams says that because their digestive system is shut down, the birds must eat less until their gut becomes acclimated and can operate efficiently again.

"We’ve known for many years that birds recovering from a migration flight do not immediately regain body mass, but we didn’t know why. Now it’s clear that this digestive constraint is responsible for the delay and likely affects the pace of a bird’s migration," said the Kingston resident.

One important result of McWilliams’ research is a new understanding of the protein requirements of migratory birds. Ornithologists have long believed that a diet high in energy was all that was necessary to sustain migratory flight. But the URI researcher said that proteins are also needed to build the digestive tract. This need for protein may have a significant impact on habitat management at key migratory stop-over sites.

"To build their digestive tract, birds need foods available in the environment that have sufficient protein," McWilliams said. "When birds feed only on fruits that are high in fat and low in protein, they may have to delay their migration. To help birds ensure a successful migration, we need to ensure, for example, that shrubs along their migratory routes have fruits with higher protein amounts."

Little is known about the nutrients in wild fruits, so McWilliams’ current research is aimed at identifying the shrub species that bear fruit with high protein and energy content.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and with logistical support provided by The Nature Conservancy, McWilliams’ field studies have involved both free-living and captive birds, mostly white-throated sparrows, red-eyed vireos and yellow-rumped warblers. He and his students work each fall on Block Island, R.I. measuring the dynamics of body mass, body composition and gut size of wild songbirds as they stop there during migration. Using experiments with captive birds, he has also examined the physiological effects of short-term fasting, which most birds experience during migration, and then observed the feeding delay that occurs when the birds were then allowed to eat as much as they wanted.

McWilliams began studying the physiology of birds as a graduate student at the University of California at Davis in the early 1990s. He joined the faculty of URI’s Department of Natural Resources Science in 1998 after a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

"Migration is very costly to birds," said McWilliams. "But just like people who exercise to modify aspects of their bodies, birds can modify their bodies too so they can accomplish the formidable feats of endurance required by migration."

Todd McLeish | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uri.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bolstering fat cells offers potential new leukemia treatment
17.10.2017 | McMaster University

nachricht Ocean atmosphere rife with microbes
17.10.2017 | King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Ocean atmosphere rife with microbes

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Neutrons observe vitamin B6-dependent enzyme activity useful for drug development

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

NASA finds newly formed tropical storm lan over open waters

17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>