A review of thermoregulation and physiological performance in reptiles: what is the role of phenotypic flexibility?
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- Seebacher, F. J Comp Physiol B (2005) 175: 453. doi:10.1007/s00360-005-0010-6
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Biological functions are dependent on the temperature of the organism. Animals may respond to fluctuation in the thermal environment by regulating their body temperature and by modifying physiological and biochemical rates. Phenotypic flexibility (reversible phenotypic plasticity, acclimation, or acclimatisation) in rate functions occurs in all major taxonomic groups and may be considered as an ancestral condition. Within the Reptilia, representatives from all major groups show phenotypic flexibility in response to long-term or chronic changes in the thermal environment. Acclimation or acclimatisation in reptiles are most commonly assessed by measuring whole animal responses such as oxygen consumption, but whole animal responses are comprised of variation in individual traits such as enzyme activities, hormone expression, and cardiovascular functions. The challenge now lies in connecting the changes in the components to the functioning of the whole animal and its fitness. Experimental designs in research on reptilian thermal physiology should incorporate the capacity for reversible phenotypic plasticity as a null-hypothesis, because the significance of differential body temperature–performance relationships (thermal reaction norms) between individuals, populations, or species cannot be assessed without testing that null-hypothesis.