Flight muscle and heart phenotypes in the high-flying ruddy shelduck Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Ruddy shelduck migrate from wintering grounds in lowland India and Myanmar to breeding grounds in central China and Mongolia, sustaining flight over the Himalayas, where oxygen availability is greatly reduced. We compared phenotypes of the pectoralis muscle and the ventricle of the heart from ruddy shelduck and common shelduck (a closely related low-altitude congener) that were raised in common conditions at sea level, predicting that oxidative capacity would be greater in ruddy shelduck to support high-altitude migration. Fibre-type composition of the pectoralis and the maximal activity of eight enzymes involved in mitochondrial energy metabolism in the pectoralis and heart, were compared between species. Few differences distinguished ruddy shelduck from common shelduck in the flight muscle, with the exception that ruddy shelduck had higher activities of complex II and higher ratios of complex IV (cytochrome c oxidase) and complex II when expressed relative to citrate synthase activity. There were no species differences in fibre-type composition, so these changes in enzyme activity may reflect an evolved modification in the functional properties of muscle mitochondria, potentially influencing mitochondrial respiratory capacity and/or oxygen affinity. Ruddy shelduck also had higher lactate dehydrogenase activity concurrent with lower pyruvate kinase and hexokinase activity in the left ventricle, which likely reflects an increased capacity for lactate oxidation by the heart. We conclude that changes in pathways of mitochondrial energy metabolism in the muscle and heart may contribute to the ability of ruddy shelduck to fly at high altitude.

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publication date

  • May 2021