Respiratory mechanics and morphology of Tibetan and Andean high-altitude geese with divergent life histories

Julia M. York, Miriam Scadeng, Kevin G. McCracken, William K. Milsom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


High-altitude bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) and Andean geese (Chloephaga melanoptera) have been shown to preferentially increase tidal volume over breathing frequency when increasing ventilation during exposure to hypoxia. Increasing tidal volume is a more effective breathing strategy but is also thought to be more mechanically and metabolically expensive. We asked whether there might be differences in the mechanics or morphology of the respiratory systems of high-altitude transient bar-headed geese and high-altitude resident Andean geese that could minimize the cost of breathing more deeply. We compared these two species with a lowaltitude migratory species, the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis).We ventilated anesthetized birds to measure mechanical properties of the respiratory system and used CT scans to quantify respiratory morphology. We found that the respiratory system of Andean geese was disproportionately larger than that of the other two species, allowing use of a deeper breathing strategy for the same energetic cost. The relative size of the respiratory system, especially the caudal air sacs, of bar-headed geese was also larger than that of barnacle geese. However, when normalized to respiratory system size, the mechanical cost of breathing did not differ significantly among these three species, indicating that deeper breathing is enabled by morphological but not mechanical differences between species. The metabolic cost of breathing was estimated to be 1% of basal metabolic rate at rest in normoxia. Because of differences in the magnitude of the ventilatory response, the cost of breathing was estimated to increase 7- to 10-fold in bar-headed and barnacle geese in severe hypoxia, but less than 1-fold in Andean geese exposed to the same low atmospheric PO2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Air sac morphology
  • Andean goose
  • Anser indicus
  • Bar-headed goose
  • Barnacle goose
  • Branta leucopsis
  • Chloephaga melanoptera
  • Compliance
  • High-altitude hypoxia
  • Respiratory mechanics
  • Work of breathing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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