Complex bird clocks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

The circadian pacemaking system of birds comprises three major components: (i) the pineal gland, which rhythmically synthesizes and secretes melatonin; (ii) a hypothalamic region, possibly equivalent to the mammalian suprachiasmatic nuclei; and (iii) the retinae of the eyes. These components jointly interact, stabilize and amplify each other to produce a highly self-sustained circadian output. Their relative contribution to overt rhythmicity appears to differ between species and the system may change its properties even within an individual depending, for example, on its state in the annual cycle or its photic environment. Changes in pacemaker properties are partly mediated by changes in certain features of the pineal melatonin rhythm. It is proposed that this variability is functionally important, for instance, for enabling high-Arctic birds to retain synchronized circadian rhythms during the low-amplitude zeitgeber conditions in midsummer or for allowing birds to adjust quickly their circadian system to changing environmental conditions during migratory seasons. The pineal melatonin rhythm, apart from being involved in generating the avian pacemaking oscillation, is also capable of retaining day length information after isolation from the animal. Hence, it appears to participate in photoperiodic after-effects. Our results suggest that complex circadian clocks have evolved to help birds cope with complex environments.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1801-1810
Number of pages10
JournalRoyal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions B. Biological Sciences
Volume356
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001