Effects of temperature on circadian clock and chronotype: an experimental study in a passerine bird

M. Lehmann, K. Spoelstra, M.E. Visser, B. Helm

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Daily schedules of many organisms, including birds, are thought to affect fitness. Timing in birds is based on circadian clocks that have a heritable period length, but fitness consequences for individuals in natural environments depend on the scheduling of entrained clocks. This chronotype, i.e., timing of an individual relative to a zeitgeber, results from interactions between the endogenous circadian clock and environmental factors, including light conditions and ambient temperature. To understand contributions of these factors to timing, we studied daily activity patterns of a captive songbird, the great tit (Parus major), under different temperature and light conditions. Birds were kept in a light (L)-dark (D) cycle (12.5 L:11.5 D) at either 8°C or 18°C with ad libitum access to food and water. We assessed chronotype and subsequently tested birds at the same temperature under constant dim light (LLdim) to determine period length of their circadian clock. Thermal conditions were then reversed so that period length was measured under both temperatures. We found that under constant dim light conditions individuals lengthened their free-running period at higher temperatures by 5.7 ± 2.1 min (p = .002). Under LD, birds kept at 18°C started activity later and terminated it much earlier in the day than those kept under 8°C. Overall, chronotype was slightly earlier under higher temperature, and duration of activity was shorter. Furthermore, individuals timed their activities consistently on different days under LD and over the two test series under LLdim (repeatability from .38 to .60). Surprisingly, period length and chronotype did not show the correlation that had been previously found in other avian species. Our study shows that body clocks of birds are precise and repeatable, but are, nonetheless, affected by ambient temperature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1062-1071
JournalAnnual Review of Chronopharmacology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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