Agata Bury, Jowita Niedojadlo, Edyta T. Sadowska, Ulf Bauchinger, and Mariusz Cichon
Physical aerobic activity is oxygen demanding, but – particularly for birds – there is still little understanding of how blood contributes to oxygen supply under various activity levels. In a two-factorial experimental design, we investigated the long-term effect of daily flight training and the immediate effect of a short exercise bout on a set of haematological variables: haemoglobin (Hb) content, haematocrit (Hct), and red blood cell number (RBCcount) and size (RBCarea) in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). For a period of 6 weeks, birds were either trained daily for 3 h in a flight arena or remained untrained. Subsequently, half of each group was blood sampled either in the resting condition or after a 5 min exercise bout in a flight-hover wheel. We found significantly lower Hb content, Hct and RBCcount compared with that in untrained controls in response to training, while RBCarea did not differ between treatments. Response to an exercise bout revealed the opposite pattern, with significantly higher Hb content and Hct compared with that in non-exercised birds. Additionally, RBCarea was significantly smaller immediately after exercise compared with that in non-exercised birds, and such short-term flexibility represents a novel finding for birds. This contrasting response in erythrocyte characteristics with respect to long-term training and short exercise bouts appears as a clear pattern, presumably underlain by changes in water balance. We infer alterations of blood flow to be involved in adequate oxygen supply. During an exercise bout, RBCarea flexibility may not only enhance oxygen delivery through improved erythrocyte surface area to volume ratio but also improve blood flow through a compensatory effect on blood viscosity.