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A large number of passerine species migrate at night, although most of them are diurnal outside the migratory seasons. This diurnal-to-nocturnal transition is a major life-history event, yet little is known about its physiological control. Previous work showed that during the migratory periods captive birds showing nocturnal migratory restlessness (Zugunruhe) have reduced concentrations of circulating melatonin at night compared to non-migratory periods. This suggested that the hormone melatonin, a main component of the avian circadian system, is involved in the expression of Zugunruhe. Other studies demonstrated that the relationship between low melatonin levels and Zugunruhe is not a seasonal correlation. When Zugunruhe was interrupted by exposing birds to a fasting-and-refeeding protocol, melatonin levels increased. Here we studied whether melatonin and food availability influence the intensity of Zugunruhe in wild migrating garden warblers (Sylvia borin) at a stopover site. Birds were held in recording cages overnight, with or without food available, and either bled to determine melatonin concentrations or treated transdermally with melatonin. We found that melatonin levels at night were correlated with the intensity of diurnal locomotor activity and with condition, but were not correlated with Zugunruhe. Similarly, the melatonin treatment did not have effects on Zugunruhe, whereas food availability increased it. Our study shows that the nocturnal melatonin levels in migrating warblers depend on food availability and are correlated with condition. In addition, it suggests that melatonin does not control Zugunruhe and might rather be involved in energy conservation and/or clock synchronization during migration.
Animal Migration/physiology* Animals Circadian Rhythm/physiology* Diet* Food Melatonin/blood* Melatonin/pharmacology Motor Activity/physiology Principal Component Analysis Radioimmunoassay Seasons Songbirds/physiology*