The costs of keeping cool in a warming world: Implications of high temperatures for foraging, thermoregulation and body condition of an arid-zone bird

Katherine L. du Plessis, Rowan O. Martin, Philip A R Hockey*, Susan J. Cunningham, Amanda R. Ridley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Citations (Scopus)


Recent mass mortalities of bats, birds and even humans highlight the substantial threats that rising global temperatures pose for endotherms. Although less dramatic, sublethal fitness costs of high temperatures may be considerable and result in changing population demographics. Endothermic animals exposed to high environmental temperatures can adjust their behaviour (e.g. reducing activity) or physiology (e.g. elevating rates of evaporative water loss) to maintain body temperatures within tolerable limits. The fitness consequences of these adjustments, in terms of the ability to balance water and energy budgets and therefore maintain body condition, are poorly known. We investigated the effects of daily maximum temperature on foraging and thermoregulatory behaviour as well as maintenance of body condition in a wild, habituated population of Southern Pied Babblers Turdoides bicolor. These birds inhabit a hot, arid area of southern Africa where they commonly experience environmental temperatures exceeding optimal body temperatures. Repeated measurements of individual behaviour and body mass were taken across days varying in maximum air temperature. Contrary to expectations, foraging effort was unaffected by daily maximum temperature. Foraging efficiency, however, was lower on hotter days and this was reflected in a drop in body mass on hotter days. When maximum air temperatures exceeded 35.5 °C, individuals no longer gained sufficient weight to counter typical overnight weight loss. This reduction in foraging efficiency is likely driven, in part, by a trade-off with the need to engage in heat-dissipation behaviours. When we controlled for temperature, individuals that actively dissipated heat while continuing to forage experienced a dramatic decrease in their foraging efficiency. This study demonstrates the value of investigations of temperature-dependent behaviour in the context of impacts on body condition, and suggests that increasingly high temperatures will have negative implications for the fitness of these arid-zone birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3063-3070
Number of pages8
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Body condition
  • Body mass
  • Climate change
  • Daily maximum temperature
  • Foraging efficiency
  • Foraging effort
  • Southern Pied Babbler
  • Temperature-dependent behaviour
  • Thermoregulation
  • Trade-offs
  • Turdoides bicolor


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