Do Bar-Headed Geese Train for High Altitude Flights?
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Exercise at high altitude is extremely challenging, largely due to hypobaric hypoxia (low oxygen levels brought about by low air pressure). In humans, the maximal rate of oxygen consumption decreases with increasing altitude, supporting progressively poorer performance. Bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) are renowned high altitude migrants and, although they appear to minimize altitude during migration where possible, they must fly over the Tibetan Plateau (mean altitude 4800 m) for much of their annual migration. This requires considerable cardiovascular effort, but no study has assessed the extent to which bar-headed geese may train prior to migration for long distances, or for high altitudes. Using implanted loggers that recorded heart rate, acceleration, pressure, and temperature, we found no evidence of training for migration in bar-headed geese. Geese showed no significant change in summed activity per day or maximal activity per day. There was also no significant change in maximum heart rate per day or minimum resting heart rate, which may be evidence of an increase in cardiac stroke volume if all other variables were to remain the same. We discuss the strategies used by bar-headed geese in the context of training undertaken by human mountaineers when preparing for high altitude, noting the differences between their respective cardiovascular physiology.
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