Elevated performance: the unique physiology of birds that fly at high altitudes
ABSTRACT Birds that fly at high altitudes must support vigorous exercise in oxygen-thin environments. Here I discuss the characteristics that help high fliers sustain the high rates of metabolism needed for flight at elevation. Many traits in the O(2) transport pathway distinguish birds in general from other vertebrates. These include enhanced gas-exchange efficiency in the lungs, maintenance of O(2) delivery and oxygenation in the brain during hypoxia, augmented O(2) diffusion capacity in peripheral tissues and a high aerobic capacity. These traits are not high-altitude adaptations, because they are also characteristic of lowland birds, but are nonetheless important for hypoxia tolerance and exercise capacity. However, unique specializations also appear to have arisen, presumably by high-altitude adaptation, at every step in the O(2) pathway of highland species. The distinctive features of high fliers include an enhanced hypoxic ventilatory response, an effective breathing pattern, larger lungs, haemoglobin with a higher O(2) affinity, further augmentation of O(2) diffusion capacity in the periphery and multiple alterations in the metabolic properties of cardiac and skeletal muscle. These unique specializations improve the uptake, circulation and efficient utilization of O(2) during high-altitude hypoxia. High-altitude birds also have larger wings than their lowland relatives to reduce the metabolic costs of staying aloft in low-density air. High fliers are therefore unique in many ways, but the relative roles of adaptation and plasticity (acclimatization) in high-altitude flight are still unclear. Disentangling these roles will be instrumental if we are to understand the physiological basis of altitudinal range limits and how they might shift in response to climate change.
SourceAvailable from: Michael Oellermann
Dataset: Oellermann et al 2014
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ABSTRACT: Hypoxia is an unremitting stressor at high altitudes that places a premium on oxygen transport by the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Phenotypic plasticity and genotypic adaptation at various steps in the O2 cascade could help offset the effects of hypoxia on cellular O2 supply in high-altitude natives. In this review, we will discuss the unique mechanisms by which ventilation, cardiac output, and blood flow are controlled in high-altitude mammals and birds. Acclimatization to high altitudes leads to some changes in respiratory and cardiovascular control that increase O2 transport in hypoxia (e.g., ventilatory acclimatization to hypoxia). However, acclimatization or development in hypoxia can also modify cardiorespiratory control in ways that are maladaptive for O2 transport. Hypoxia responses that arose as short-term solutions to O2 deprivation (e.g., peripheral vasoconstriction) or regional variation in O2 levels in the lungs (i.e., hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction) are detrimental at in chronic high-altitude hypoxia. Evolved changes in cardiorespiratory control have arisen in many high-altitude taxa, including increases in effective ventilation, attenuation of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, and changes in catecholamine sensitivity of the heart and systemic vasculature. Parallel evolution of some of these changes in independent highland lineages supports their adaptive significance. Much less is known about the genomic bases and potential interactive effects of adaptation, acclimatization, developmental plasticity, and trans-generational epigenetic transfer on cardiorespiratory control. Future work to understand these various influences on breathing and circulation in high-altitude natives will help elucidate how complex physiological systems can be pushed to their limits to maintain cellular function in hypoxia. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A Molecular & Integrative Physiology 10/2014; DOI:10.1016/j.cbpa.2014.10.009 · 2.37 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The aim of this work is to describe for the first time the skin and the subcutaneous diverticula at histological level (by light microscopy) of the Southern Screamer Chauna torquata. We found that the main distinguishing features of the skin were the presence of deep and branched epidermal invaginations whereas in the dermis abundant elastic fibers were found. These skin features could provide a great stretchability to the skin which, in turn, are related to the change of volume that may experience the subcutaneous diverticula.. Since screamers are flying birds that soar to great heights, the presence of subcutaneous diverticula together with another anatomical features (like a great skeletal pneumaticity) could favor a body mass reduction and an optimization in its mode of locomotion.