Morag F. Dick and Christopher G. Guglielmo
Migration poses many physiological challenges for birds, including sustaining high intensity aerobic exercise for hours or days. A consequence of endurance flight is the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS production may be influenced by dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), which, although prone to oxidative damage, may limit mitochondrial ROS production and increase antioxidant capacity. We examined how flight muscles manage oxidative stress during flight, and whether dietary long-chain PUFA influence ROS management or damage. Yellow-rumped warblers were fed diets low in PUFA, or high in long-chain n-3 or n-6 PUFA. Flight muscle was sampled from birds in each diet treatment at rest or immediately after flying for up to a maximum of 360 min in a wind tunnel. Flight increased flight muscle superoxide dismutase activity but had no effect on catalase activity. The ratio of glutathione to glutathione disulphide decreased during flight. Oxidative protein damage, indicated by protein carbonyls, increased with flight duration (Pearson r=0.4). Further examination of just individuals that flew for 360 min (N=15) indicates that oxidative damage was related more to total energy expenditure (Pearson r=0.86) than to flight duration itself. This suggests that high quality individuals with higher flight efficiency have not only lower energy costs but also potentially less oxidative damage to repair after arrival at the destination. No significant effects of dietary long-chain PUFA were observed on antioxidants or damage. Overall, flight results in oxidative stress and the degree of damage is likely driven more by energy costs than fatty acid nutrition.