Behaviour of an alpine range-restricted species is described by interactions between microsite use and temperature

Krista N. Oswald, Ben Smit, Alan T.K. Lee, Susan J. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Climate change predictions include increased mean temperatures and increased frequency of heatwaves. Short-term responses to high air temperatures can allow animals to conserve water while maintaining a safe body temperature. For birds, cooling is often through evaporative water loss, which can be physiologically costly. Microsite use is an effective means of conserving water via reducing environmental heat load, so long as there are no negative trade-offs with other necessary functions, such as foraging. We examined behavioural responses to temperature in Cape rockjumpers, Chaetops frenatus (hereafter: ‘rockjumper’), an alpine specialist bird. We hypothesized that rockjumper behaviours would be temperature and microsite dependent. We collected data on rockjumper microsite use (sun, rock shade), behaviour (activity, foraging, preening, panting) and temperature (air, environmental). Rockjumpers made increased use of rock shade as air temperature increased. However, birds in rock shade foraged less. Depending on where their main food source is located, this suggests that when foraging demands are high, birds may need to remain in the sun despite risks of high thermal load, or else may suffer costs of lost foraging opportunities when using shade. The relationship between air temperature and heat dissipation behaviour (panting) was also mediated by microsite: birds showed significant increases in panting with increasing air temperature only when in the sun. The lack of increase in panting for birds in rock shade suggests that shade seeking may buffer physiological thermoregulatory costs (i.e. water expenditure). Individuals may therefore be able to mitigate some potential negative effects of high temperatures by making use of cooler microsites, although this could come at a cost to foraging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-187
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • alpine endemic
  • behavioural buffering
  • behavioural trade-offs
  • climate relict
  • microsite use
  • range-restricted species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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