Adaptation of metabolism and evaporative water loss along an aridity gradient

B. Irene Tieleman, Joseph B. Williams, Paulette Bloomer


Broad–scale comparisons of birds indicate the possibility of adaptive modification of basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total evaporative water loss (TEWL) in species from desert environments, but these might be confounded by phylogeny or phenotypic plasticity. This study relates variation in avian BMR and TEWL to a continuously varying measure of environment, aridity. We test the hypotheses that BMR and TEWL are reduced along an aridity gradient within the lark family (Alaudidae), and investigate the role of phylogenetic inertia. For 12 species of lark, BMR and TEWL decreased along a gradient of increasing aridity, a finding consistent with our proposals. We constructed a phylogeny for 22 species of lark based on sequences of two mitochondrial genes, and investigated whether phylogenetic affinity played a part in the correlation of phenotype and environment. A test for serial independence of the data for mass–corrected TEWL and aridity showed no influence of phylogeny on our findings. However, we did discover a significant phylogenetic effect in mass–corrected data for BMR, a result attributable to common phylogenetic history or to common ecological factors. A test of the relationship between BMR and aridity using phylogenetic independent constrasts was consistent with our previous analysis: BMR decreased with increasing aridity.