- Study at Deakin
- Campus life
- Industry and community
- About Deakin
Participants: Prof William A Buttemer (PI), Prof Marcel Klaassen, Dr BriAnne Addison and Dr Giovanni Turchini
Aims and background: Because birds and mammals are unable to synthesize particular long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) de novo, they must get their short-chain precursors from their diets. These essential dietary PUFAs fall into two groups: the n-3 and n-6 fatty acids. There is increasing evidence that animals selectively target foods enriched with either of these PUFA groups in preparation for particular stages in their life cycle (e.g., migration or hibernation). Based on observations of birds foraging before migration, it has been hypothesized that birds select n-3 enriched food to improve their aerobic endurance. This claim was later substantiated by experiments showing that n-3 biased diets increased the activities of key aerobic enzymes. By contrast, other researchers have found no evidence of n-3 PUFA enhancing aerobic enzyme activities, but report that n-6 enriched diets increase aerobic scope of birds. It is important to note that none of these studies have directly examined the effect of dietary PUFAs on long-distance flight performance, instead relying on surrogate measures of protracted aerobic exercise. Another consequence of dietary PUFA imbalance is the known modulation of immune function by n-6 enriched diets. This underlies the importance of resolving the effects of n-3 and n-6 PUFAs on aerobic endurance to better understand the consequences and potential tradeoffs of diet choice. The proposed doctoral study will be the first to examine the effects of dietary PUFA balance on long-distance performance in combination with immunological, hormonal, and oxidative stress measures in the same individuals. Specifically, it will use racing pigeons to address the costs and benefits of PUFA-biased diets on exercise performance and health measures.
Scientific significance and innovation: This is the first study to directly examine dietary PUFA effects on flight performance and to couple this with immunological and stress measures. This will help to resolve conflicting interpretations of PUFA effects on avian migration and to identify the physiological consequences and potential functional tradeoffs of diet switching by animals prior to particular life stages.
Potential national benefit and strategic alignment with the aims of the CIE: This research complements the CIE's objective of using integrative approaches in addressing questions of ecological and evolutionary relevance. National benefits include: advancing intellectual and scientific development of the PhD candidate; gaining insight into diet influences on health and performance, which is pertinent to evolutionary and conservation biology as well as human health.