Short- and long-distance avian migrants differ in exercise endurance but not aerobic capacity

Steffen Hahn, Tamara Emmenegger, Sara Riello, Lorenzo Serra, Fernando Spina, William A. Buttemer, Silke Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Migratory birds differ markedly in their migration strategies, particularly those performing short- versus long-distance migrations. In preparation for migration, all birds undergo physiological and morphological modifications including enlargement of fat stores and pectoral muscles to fuel and power their flights, as well as cardiovascular and biochemical adjustments that improve lipid and oxygen delivery and uptake by flight muscles. While the magnitude of these changes varies in relation to migration strategy, the consequence of these variations on aerobic performance is unknown. We tested whether the aerobic performance of four Old-world flycatcher species (Muscicapidae) varied according to migration strategy by comparing minimum resting metabolic rates (RMRmin), exercise-induced maximum metabolic rates (MMR), and exercise endurance times of short-distance and long-distance migratory birds. Results: As expected, RMRmin did not vary between short-distance and long-distance migrants but differed between the species within a migration strategy and between sexes. Unexpectedly, MMR did not vary with migration strategy, but MMR and blood haemoglobin content were positively related among the birds tested. Exercise endurance times differed substantially between migration strategies with long-distance migrants sustaining exercise for > 60% longer than short-distance migrants. Blood haemoglobin content had a significant positive effect on endurance among all birds examined. Conclusions: The lack of difference in RMRmin and MMR between long- and short-distance migrants during this stage of migration suggests that the attributes favouring the greater aerobic endurance of long-distance migrants did not come at the expense of increased maintenance costs or require greater aerobic capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Zoology
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
SH and SB received funding for the ‘Host-parasite interactions on the move’ from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF 31003A_160265).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology


  • Aerobic scope
  • Haemoglobin
  • Metabolic rate
  • Migration strategy
  • Passerine


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