Diurnal body temperature patterns in free-ranging populations of two southern African arid-zone nightjars

25 Oct 2017

Endotherms allocate large amounts of energy and water to the regulation of a precise body temperature (Tb), but can potentially reduce thermoregulatory costs by allowing Tb to deviate from normothermic levels. Many data on heterothermy at low air temperatures (Ta) exist for caprimulgids, whereas data on thermoregulation at high Ta are largely absent, despite members of this taxon frequently roosting and nesting in sites exposed to high operative temperatures. We investigated thermoregulation in free-ranging rufous-cheeked nightjars Caprimulgus rufigena and freckled nightjars Caprimulgus tristigma in the southern African arid zone. Individuals of both species showed labile Tb fluctuating around a single modal Tb (Tb-mod). Average Tb-mod was 39.7°C for rufous-cheeked nightjars and 39.0°C for freckled nightjars. In both species, diurnal Tb increased with increasing Ta. At Ta ≥ 38°C, rufous-cheeked nightjar mean Tb increased to 42°C, equivalent to 2.3°C above Tb-mod. Under similar conditions, freckled nightjar Tb was on average only 1.1°C above Tb-mod, with a mean Tb of 40.0°C. Freckled nightjars are one of the most heterothermic caprimulgids investigated to date, but our data suggest that during hot conditions this species maintains Tb within a narrow range above Tb-mod, possibly reflecting an evolutionary tradeoff between decreased thermal sensitivity to lower Tb but increased sensitivity to high Tb. These findings reveal how general thermoregulatory patterns at similar Ta can vary even among closely related species.