The migrant black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) traditionally used natural wetlands in the Iberian Peninsula preparing for migratory flights by feeding mainly in estuaries. In recent decades this species has become increasingly dependent on rice fields, thereby relying on a plant-based diet for fueling. Dietary fatty acids (FA) seem to be determinant to the composition of accumulated subcutaneous fat in migratory birds. It is still unclear whether metabolic plasticity allows for modification and/or synthesis of FA, contributing for a lipid profile that enables a successful migratory performance.
Deuterated water was administered to captive black-tailed godwits submitted to two diets (fly larvae vs. rice) and the incorporation of deuterium (2H) into subcutaneous triglycerides was analysed by NMR. A recently developed localized biopsy method for sampling subcutaneous fat was employed with ulterior successful release of all birds into the wild. The average chemical structure reflected mostly a mixture of saturated and monounsaturated 16- and 18-carbon FA, a profile frequently found in migrant birds. Significantly higher levels of polyunsaturated FA, as well as detectable levels of n-3 FA were observed in fly larvae-fed birds. Excess 2H-enrichments in FA revealed significantly higher rates of fractional de novo lipogenesis and FA desaturation capacity in rice-fed birds.
This novel and non-lethal tracer method revealed the capacity of this species to alter its lipid metabolism to compensate for a poorer dietary lipid contribution. Due to its versatility, adapting this method to other scenarios and/or other migratory species is considered feasible and cost-effective.
- Received September 28, 2016.
- Accepted December 30, 2016.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd