To what extent might N2 limit dive performance in king penguins?
A mathematical model was used to explore if elevated levels of N2, and risk of decompression sickness (DCS), could limit dive performance (duration and depth) in king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus). The model allowed prediction of blood and tissue (central circulation, muscle, brain and fat) N2 tensions (P(N2)) based on different cardiac outputs and blood flow distributions. Estimated mixed venous P(N2) agreed with values observed during forced dives in a compression chamber used to validate the assumptions of the model. During bouts of foraging dives, estimated mixed venous and tissue P(N2) increased as the bout progressed. Estimated mean maximum mixed venous P(N2) upon return to the surface after a dive was 4.56+/-0.18 atmospheres absolute (ATA; range: 4.37-4.78 ATA). This is equivalent to N2 levels causing a 50% DCS incidence in terrestrial animals of similar mass. Bout termination events were not associated with extreme mixed venous N2 levels. Fat P(N2) was positively correlated with bout duration and the highest estimated fat P(N2) occurred at the end of a dive bout. The model suggested that short and shallow dives occurring between dive bouts help to reduce supersaturation and thereby DCS risk. Furthermore, adipose tissue could also help reduce DCS risk during the first few dives in a bout by functioning as a sink to buffer extreme levels of N2.
Fahlman, A; Schmidt, A; Jones, DR; Bostrom, BL; Handrich, Y
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