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Economic design in a long-distance migrating molluscivore: how fast-fuelling red knots in Bohai Bay, China, get away with small gizzards
Yang, H.-Y.; Ma, Z.-J.; Hua, N.; van Gils, J.A.; Zhang, Z.-W.; Piersma, T. (2013). Economic design in a long-distance migrating molluscivore: how fast-fuelling red knots in Bohai Bay, China, get away with small gizzards. J. Exp. Biol. 216(19): 3627-3636. dx.doi.org/10.1242/jeb.083576
In: Journal of Experimental Biology. Cambridge University Press: London. ISSN 0022-0949, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    diet; energy intake rate; digestive constraint; intertidal mudflats;safety factors; symmorphosis; Yellow Sea

Authors  Top 
  • Yang, H.-Y.
  • Ma, Z.-J.
  • Hua, N.
  • van Gils, J.A., more
  • Zhang, Z.-W.
  • Piersma, T., more

Abstract
    We carried out an observational and experimental study to decipher how resource characteristics, in interaction with the predator's phenotype, constrain a fitness-determining performance measure, i.e. refuelling in a migrant bird. Two subspecies of red knot (Calidris canutus rogersi and C. c. piersmai) use northern Bohai Bay, Yellow Sea, China, for the final prebreeding stopover, during their 10,000-15,000. km long migrations between wintering and breeding areas. Here, they feed on small bivalves, especially 2-7. mm long Potamocorbula laevis. With an average stay of 29 days, and the need to store 80 g of fat for the onward flights to high-Arctic breeding grounds, red knots need to refuel fast. Using existing knowledge, we expected them to achieve this on the basis of (1) prey with high flesh to shell mass ratios, (2) large gizzards to crush the ingested molluscs, or (3) a combination of the two. Rejecting all three predictions, we found that red knots staging in Bohai Bay had the smallest gizzards on record (4.9 +/- 0.8 g, mean +/- s.e.m., N=27), and also found that prey quality of P. laevis is much lower than predicted for the measured gizzard size (i.e. 1.3 rather than the predicted 4.5 kJ. g(-1) dry shell mass, DMshell). The estimated handling time of P. laevis (0.2 s) is much shorter than the observed time between two prey ingestions (0.7 s), indicating that prey handling time is no constraint. Based on field observations of dropping rates and on indoor digestion trails, the shell processing rate was estimated at 3.9 mg DMshell s(-1), i.e. three times higher the rate previously predicted for red knots eating as fast as they can with the measured gizzard size. This is explained by the small and easily crushed P. laevis enabling high processing rates. As P. laevis also occurred in high densities, the metabolizable energy intake rate of red knots with small gizzards at 5 J s(-1) was as high as at northward staging sites elsewhere in the world. Currently, therefore, food characteristics in Bohai Bay are such that red knots can refuel fast whilst economizing on the size of their gizzard. These time-stressed migrants thus provide an elegant example of symmorphosis.

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