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- Erich R. Eberts
- Christopher G. Guglielmo
- Kenneth C. Welch
Many small endotherms use torpor to reduce metabolic rate and manage daily energy balance. However, the physiological “rules” that govern torpor use are unclear. We tracked torpor use and body composition in ruby-throated hummingbirds ( Archilochus colubris ), a long-distance migrant, throughout the summer using respirometry and quantitative magnetic resonance. During the mid-summer, birds entered torpor at consistently low fat stores (∼5% of body mass), and torpor duration was negatively related to evening fat load. Remarkably, this energy-emergency strategy was abandoned in the late summer when birds accumulated fat for migration. Migrating birds were more likely to enter torpor on nights when they had higher fat stores, and fat gain was positively correlated with the amount of torpor used. These findings demonstrate the versatility of torpor throughout the annual cycle and suggest a fundamental change in physiological feedback between adiposity and torpor during migration. Moreover, this study highlights the underappreciated importance of facultative heterothermy in migratory ecology.