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Transformations at High Latitudes: Why Do Red Knots Bring Body Stores to the Breeding Grounds?

By Theunis Piersma, Nick C. Davidson and R.I. Guy Morrison


We examined changes in body composition of Red Knots (Calidris canutus islandica) following arrival on their High Arctic breeding grounds at Alert, Ellesmere Island, Canada. Knots arrived in late May and early June with large fat and muscle stores. In the next two weeks, fat and protein stores (pectoral muscles) declined, while increases occurred in gizzard, proventriculus, gut length, heart, liver, and possibly gonads. Most stores were used before egg laying occurred and were therefore not available for egg formation. Early development of ova in some females suggests that body stores may be incorporated into the earliest eggs. While stores may be used for survival when conditions are difficult after arrival, their rapid loss and the concomitant increase in other organs suggests that a major function may be to facilitate a transformation from a physiological state suitable for migration to one suitable, and possibly required, for successful breeding.

Year: 2005
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