Control of breathing and respiratory gas exchange in high-altitude ducks native to the Andes

Catherine M. Ivy, Sabine L. Lague, Julia M. York, Beverly A. Chua, Luis Alza, Rebecca Cheek, Neal J. Dawson, Peter B. Frappell, Kevin G. McCracken, William K. Milsom, Graham R. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We examined the control of breathing and respiratory gas exchange in six species of high-altitude duck that independently colonized the high Andes. We compared ducks from high-altitude populations in Peru (Lake Titicaca at ∼3800 m above sea level; Chancay River at ∼3000–4100 m) with closely related populations or species from low altitude. Hypoxic ventilatory responses were measured shortly after capture at the native altitude. In general, ducks responded to acute hypoxia with robust increases in total ventilation and pulmonary O2 extraction. O2 consumption rates were maintained or increased slightly in acute hypoxia, despite ∼1–2°C reductions in body temperature in most species. Two high-altitude taxa – yellow-billed pintail and torrent duck – exhibited higher total ventilation than their low-altitude counterparts, and yellow-billed pintail exhibited greater increases in pulmonary O2 extraction in severe hypoxia. In contrast, three other high-altitude taxa – Andean ruddy duck, Andean cinnamon teal and speckled teal – had similar or slightly reduced total ventilation and pulmonary O2 extraction compared with low-altitude relatives. Arterial O2 saturation (SaO2) was elevated in yellow-billed pintails at moderate levels of hypoxia, but there were no differences in SaO2 in other high-altitude taxa compared with their close relatives. This finding suggests that improvements in SaO2 in hypoxia can require increases in both breathing and haemoglobin–O2 affinity, because the yellow-billed pintail was the only high-altitude duck with concurrent increases in both traits compared with its low-altitude relative. Overall, our results suggest that distinct physiological strategies for coping with hypoxia can exist across different high-altitude lineages, even among those inhabiting very similar high-altitude habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb198622
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2019


  • Haemoglobin
  • High-altitude adaptation
  • Hypoxic ventilatory response
  • Ventilatory acclimatization to hypoxia
  • Waterfowl

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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