Seasonal variation in great tit energy requirements: reallocation versus increased demand
Understanding how birds annually allocate energy to cope with changing environmental conditions and physiological states is a fundamental question in avian ecology. The two main hypotheses to explain annual patterns in energy use are "reallocation" and "increased demand". The reallocation hypothesis suggests equal energetic costs in winter and breeding seasons, while the increased demand suggests that energy demand should be highest during breeding. Under the standard aerobic capacity model of endothermy, birds are expected to adjust the mass and/or metabolic intensity of their bodies in ways that are consistent with expected cold- and/or activity-induced costs. Here, we look for metabolic signatures of reallocation versus increased demands in the energy requirements of a small, resident passerine of a temperate-zone (great tit, Parus major). To do so, we measured whole-body and mass-independent basal (BMR), summit (Msum), and field (FMR) metabolic rates during late winter and during the chick-rearing period (breeding). We also assessed whether, and to what extent, metabolic rates conform to the predictions of the aerobic capacity model of endothermy. We found that great tits showed no substantial differences in energy expenditure between winter and the breeding season, providing support for the reallocation hypothesis. Only mass-independent Msum showed seasonal variation, with significantly higher values (~4%) in winter compared to the breeding season. Our results also lend support to the predictions of the aerobic capacity model for the evolution of endothermy, as we found that whole-body BMR and Msum were positively related. We argue that both energy reallocation and the limited increase in mass-independent Msum are consistent with the relatively mild winter temperatures recorded during our study period. Our results confirm that both BMR and Msum are flexible traits that vary in ways that are consistent with expected cold- and/or activity-induced costs.