Low metabolism and inactive lifestyle of a tropical rain forest bird investigated via heart-rate telemetry

Silke S. Steiger, J. Patrick Kelley, William W. Cochran, Martin Wikelski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Birds in the lowland tropical rain forest are expected to have low energy turnover. Here, we used heart rate telemetry to estimate nighttime resting metabolic rate (RMR), daily energy expenditure (DEE), and locomotor activity of a small, long-lived tropical rain forest-understory bird, the spotted antbird (Hylophylax naevioides). Heart rate was linearly related to oxygen consumption in respirometry measurements that encompassed 96% of heart rates measured in wild birds. Heart rates in the wild ranged from 260 beats/min at night to 824 beats/min during the day, with a mean of 492 beats/min. Compared with temperate-forest birds of similar body mass, wild spotted antbirds had a low DEE, only 51% of the expected value. Such low metabolism was achieved mainly by being locomotively inactive for 35% of the daytime (i.e., 0 hops or flights/min). On average, spotted antbirds exhibited 1.6 hops or short flights/min during the daytime. In addition, they decreased nighttime RMR in the wild (at ambient temperatures below their thermoneutral zone [TNZ]) to levels equivalent to nighttime RMR in the laboratory at temperatures within their TNZ. This suggests that wild birds reduce their body temperature every night. Our data confirm and extend previous studies showing that tropical passerines have low metabolic rates.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-589
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • INHS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry


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