Chick metabolic rate and growth in three species of albatross: a comparative study
The relative importance of genetic vs. environmental factors in determining the pattern of avian post-embryonic development is much debated. Previous cross-fostering of albatrosses suggested that although inter-specific variation in growth rate was determined primarily by differences in dietary energy content, species-specific constraints might have evolved that could limit maximal growth, even in chicks fed at similar rates and on similar diets. This study aimed to determine whether intrinsic differences in resting metabolic rate were apparent during the linear phase of growth in chicks of three species (black-browed, grey-headed and light-mantled sooty albatrosses). There was a gradual increase in absolute, and a reduction in mass-specific metabolic rate from 5.0 W kg−1 during the earliest part of linear growth, to 3.5 W kg−1 by the time chicks reached peak mass. These values are considerably higher than in resting adults of comparable or lower mass, presumably reflecting the large size and high metabolic demand of organs involved in rapid nutrient processing and tissue synthesis by chicks. The lack of any detectable inter-specific variation in the pattern of metabolic rate changes casts some doubt on the existence of fundamental differences in growth rate that cannot be attributed simply to differences in dietary energy or nutrient delivery rate.