Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Thermal and metabolic adaptation to first cold-water immersion in juvenile penguins

H. Barre, B. Roussel


Juvenile king and macaroni penguins are terrestrial seabirds and must face an intensive and prolonged energetic demand during their passage from shore to marine life in cold subantarctic seawater. Evidence for progressive thermal adaptation was sought by measurement of metabolic rate (MR) and body (Tb) and skin (Tsk) temperatures in unrestrained, fully immersed penguins. Steady-state responses obtained after the 3rd h of immersion in never-immersed (NI) penguins were compared with those of penguins acclimatized to seawater temperature (A). NI macaroni penguins, unlike NI king penguins, showed a fall in Tb on their first immersion but, once acclimatized, were able to maintain their homeothermy due to an increase (greater than 3.2 W/kg) in regulatory thermogenesis. In NI king penguins, during a simulation of seawater adaptation by 10 successive immersions, MR at 7 degrees C water temperature (Tw) rose from 6.0 to 9.4 W/kg (becoming 3-5 times higher than in air), whereas Tb rose from 37.6 to 38.4 degrees C. In both species occurrence of peak MR at much lower Tw, progressive increase in thermogenesis capacity, and lower conductance in water after adaptation to marine life (28 and 36% less in A king and macaroni penguins, respectively) showed that the passage from shore to marine life consisted of a true cold acclimatization.