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Hummingbirds represent an end point for small body size and water flux in vertebrates. We explored the role evaporative water loss (EWL) plays in management of their large water pool and its use in dissipating metabolic heat. We measured respiratory evaporative water loss (REWL) in hovering hummingbirds in the field (6 species) and over a range of speeds in a wind tunnel (1 species) using an open-circuit mask respirometry system. Hovering REWL during the active period was positively correlated with operative temperature (Te) likely due to some combination of an increase in the vapor-pressure deficit, increase in lung ventilation rate, and reduced importance of dry heat transfer at higher Te. In rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus; 3.3 g) REWL during forward flight at 6 and 10 m/s was less than half the value for hovering. The proportion of total dissipated heat (TDH) accounted for by REWL during hovering at Te>40 °C was b40% in most species. During forward flight in S. rufus the proportion of TDH accounted for by REWL was ~35% less than for hovering. REWL in hummingbirds is a relatively small component of the water budget compared with other bird species (b20%) so cutaneous evaporative water loss and dry heat transfer must contribute significantly to thermal balance in hummingbirds.


Originally published in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A, 161:279-285, 2012.


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