Body reserves in intra-African migrants

Chima Josiah Nwaogu, Will Cresswell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Avian migration has been shown to be a life history strategy for surviving environmental resource variability, but it requires increased body reserves for long distance flight. Fat reserves make excellent energy stores for barrier crossing, whereas proteins generate less energy for the same mass of fat but provide water during breakdown which may become especially useful when birds become water stressed. Intra-African migrants are probably unlikely to have to cross barriers equivalent to the Sahara and the Mediterranean and so may have different patterns of mass reserves reflecting the utility of metabolizing fat versus protein in hot, tropical environments. We examined differences in proportions of body mass gain, pectoral muscle score and fat score between intra African migrants, Palearctic migrants and resident African species. We tested whether intra-African migrants show a distinct seasonal peak in mass gain corresponding to expected peak migration period in a manner similar to Palearctic migrants, but maintain larger muscle tissues, because Palearctic migrants are more constrained by a need to heavily up regulate fat in addition to fat free reserves before migration due to the energy requirements of crossing the barrier of the Sahara. We found that intra-African migrants had a peak seasonal mass gain similar to Palearctics whereas African residents did not, and that Palearctics increased fat reserves with pectoral muscle reserves, so that they had much higher fat scores for any given level of pectoral muscle compared to intra-African migrants or resident species. Our results suggest that barrier crossing leads to a distinct increase in fat reserves rather than migration per se, and suggests that intra-African migrants are more similar in their reserve management to African residents. Mass gain devoid of visible fat accumulation in intra-African migrants may therefore suggest absence of barriers during migration
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-135
JournalJournal of Ornithology
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • Avian migration
  • Intra-African migrants
  • Energy reserves
  • Fat storage
  • Barrier crossing


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