Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Elizabeth Derryberry

Committee Members

Todd Freeberg, Kimberly Sheldon


As heat waves increase in length, duration, and intensity and average temperatures continue to rise globally, hot temperatures are predicted to have increasingly negative effects on animal populations. The ecology and physiology of songbirds make them particularly susceptible to these rising temperatures, as can be seen in mass-mortality events of desert birds during heat waves. While it is increasingly important to understand how heat affects animal populations, many aspects of the heat response are underdescribed, and it is unknown how various levels of response, such as behavioral and cellular, are integrated. In this study, we characterized the behavior of a model songbird, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), at temperatures below (27°C), within (35°C), and above (43°C) its thermoneutral zone of 29.5 – 40°C. We characterized thermoregulatory (panting and piloerection) and self-maintenance (eating, drinking, grooming, fluffing, and moving) behaviors during a fifteen-minute period after 2 hours of temperature exposure. Even with a relatively small sample size (6 individuals per treatment group), we found significant increases in panting behavior in the hot treatment group and significant increases in piloerection behavior in the cold treatment group. Further research is required to determine whether temperature affects non-thermoregulatory behaviors. Our results provide a starting point for investigating how lab and wild observations of thermoregulatory behavior differ, and for comparing heat responses across systemic levels.

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