Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 177, Issue 8, pp 885–892 | Cite as

Basking and torpor in a rock-dwelling desert marsupial: survival strategies in a resource-poor environment

  • Fritz Geiser
  • Chris R. Pavey
Original Paper


Australian deserts are characterized by unpredictability, low primary productivity, and high temperature fluctuations. Despite these adverse conditions the diversity of small insectivorous marsupials of the family Dasyuridae is surprisingly high. We quantified the thermal biology of the dasyurid Pseudantechinus madonnellensis (body mass ∼30 g) in the wild to gain some understanding of whether the success of dasyurids in the arid zone may be related to some extent to their use of energy conservation strategies. In winter, most free-ranging Pseudantechinus frequently (58.3% of 131 animal days) entered daily torpor after midnight (mean 0157 hours) in rock crevices when outside ambient temperatures (T a) were low. Most animals remained torpid until the next morning when they moved while still torpid from rock crevices to sun-exposed basking sites. We visually observed basking during rewarming from torpor (mean commencement at 0943 hours) at body temperatures (T b) as low as 19.3°C when radiant heat was high and T a was rising. Basking continued for the rest of the day. Torpor use was not strongly correlated with T a, but the temporal organization of daily torpor and activity were apparently linked to the thermal characteristics of basking sites. Our study suggests that by frequently employing daily torpor and basking and by appropriately coordinating their thermal biology with that of specific locations in their environment, Pseudantechinus can reduce daily energy expenditure and thus can live and reproduce in a challenging environment. It is likely that the success of other small dasyurids and perhaps many other small mammals living in deserts is linked to employment of torpor and basking for energy conservation.


Activity patterns Basking Desert mammals Daily torpor Energy conservation Pseudantechinus macdonnellensis Thermal environment 



Metabolic rate


Air temperature

Ta bask

Basking temperature

Ta cave

Cave temperature


Body temperature



We thank Michael Barritt, Silke Beckedorf, Nicola Goodship, Karen May, and Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory staff based at Ormiston for assistance and logistic support during the study. Mark Brigham and Bronwyn McAllan provided constructive comments on the manuscript. The Animal Ethics Committee of the University of New England and the Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory provided permits for the study. The research was supported by grants from the Australian Research Council and The University of New England.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Behavioural and Physiological Ecology, ZoologyUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Biodiversity ConservationDepartment of Natural Resources, Environment and of the ArtsAlice SpringsAustralia

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