Oxidative damage to lipids is rapidly reduced during migratory stopovers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Most migrating birds need to stopover in between flights in order to refuel. Lately, additional purposes of stopover have been suggested, including physiological recovery from metabolically demanding migratory flight. One apparently unavoidable, but harmful physiological effect of migratory flight is increased oxidative damage to lipids and proteins. We here, for the first time, tested whether migrating birds are able to reduce their oxidative damage during stopover. To be able to collect longitudinal data on a large number of individual birds, we temporarily caged wild northern wheatears, a long-distance migrant which does not suffer stress when caged during migration. Around noon on the first and third day at stopover, the birds were blood-sampled to determine malondialdehyde (MDA) concentration, a commonly used marker of oxidative damage to lipids. We found that MDA concentrations significantly decreased during stopover, a result unchanged when correcting for the peroxidizability of the substrate. The extent of the decrease was unrelated to the amounts of food consumed or of fuel accumulated. Our findings support the hypothesis that stopovers serve reduction of oxidative damage, warranting re-thinking of how birds accomplish their migrations. They also highlight the need to include physiological recovery as a driver of the (temporal) organization of migration. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.


External organisations
  • Institute of Avian Research “Vogelwarte Helgoland”
  • Lund University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Behavioral Sciences Biology


  • avian, eco-physiology, migrant, optimal migration, oxidative stress
Original languageEnglish
JournalFunctional Ecology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020 Jan 30
Publication categoryResearch