Phenotypic flexibility in digestive system structure and function in migratory birds and its ecological significance

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Date of Original Version



Birds during migration must satisfy the high energy and nutrient demands associated with repeated, intensive flight while often experiencing unpredictable variation in food supply and food quality. Solutions to such different challenges may often be physiologically incompatible. For example, increased food intake and gut size are primarily responsible for satisfying the high energy and nutrient demands associated with migration in birds. However, short-term fasting or food restriction during flight may cause partial atrophy of the gut that may limit utilization of ingested food energy and nutrients. We review the evidence available on the effects of long- and short-term changes in food quality and quantity on digestive performance in migratory birds, and the importance of digestive constraints in limiting the tempo of migration in birds. Another important physiological consequence of feeding in birds is the effect of diet on body composition dynamics during migration. Recent evidence suggests that birds utilize and replenish both protein and fat reserves during migration, and diet quality influences the rate of replenishment of both these reserves. We conclude that diet and phenotypic flexibility in both body composition and the digestive system of migratory birds are important in allowing birds to successfully overcome the often-conflicting physiological challenges of migration. © 2001 Elsevier Science Inc.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - A Molecular and Integrative Physiology