Plastic but repeatable: rapid adjustments of mitochondrial function and density during reproduction in a wild bird species

Antoine Stier*, Pierre Bize, Bin-Yan Hsu, Suvi Ruuskanen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Most of the energy fluxes supporting animal performance flow through mitochondria. Hence, inter-individual differences in performance might be rooted in inter-individual variations in mitochondrial function and density. Furthermore, because the energy required by an individual often changes across life stages, mitochondrial function and density are also expected to show within-individual variation (i.e. plasticity). No study so far has repeatedly measured mitochondrial function and density in the same individuals to simultaneously test for within-individual repeatability and plasticity of mitochondrial traits. Here, we repeatedly measured mitochondrial DNA copy number (a proxy of density) and respiration rates from blood cells of female pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) at the incubation and chick rearing stages. Mitochondrial density and respiration rates were all repeatable (R=[0.45; 0.80]), indicating high within-individual consistency in mitochondrial traits across life-history stages. Mitochondrial traits were also plastic, showing a quick (i.e. 10 days) down-regulation from incubation to chick-rearing in mitochondrial density, respiratory activity, and cellular regulation by endogenous substrates and/or ATP demand. These downregulations were partially compensated by an increase in mitochondrial efficiency at the chick-rearing stage. Therefore, our study provides clear evidence for both short-term plasticity and high within individual consistency in mitochondrial function and density during reproduction in a wild bird species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20190536
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number11
Early online date13 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019



  • mitochondria
  • cellular respiration
  • metabolism
  • repeatability
  • plasticity
  • physiology/life-history nexus

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