Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 180, Issue 6, pp 877–884 | Cite as

Comparative respiratory strategies of subterranean and fossorial octodontid rodents to cope with hypoxic and hypercapnic atmospheres

  • I. H. TomascoEmail author
  • R. Del Río
  • R. Iturriaga
  • F. Bozinovic
Original Paper


Subterranean rodents construct large and complex burrows and spend most of their lives underground, while fossorial species construct simpler burrows and are more active above ground. An important constraint faced by subterranean mammals is the chronic hypoxia and hypercapnia of the burrow atmosphere. The traits, regarded as “adaptations of rodents to hypoxia and hypercapnia”, have been evaluated in only a few subterranean species. In addition, well-studied subterranean taxa are very divergent to their sister groups, making it difficult to assess the adaptive path leading to subterranean life. The closely related sister genera Octodon and Spalacopus of Neotropical rodents offer a unique opportunity to trace the evolution of physiological mechanisms. We studied the ventilatory responses of selected octodontid rodents to selective pressures imposed by the subterranean niche under the working hypothesis that life underground, in hypoxic and hypercapnic conditions, promotes convergent physiological changes. To perform this study we used the following species: Spalacopus cyanus (the subterranean coruros) and Octodon degus (the fossorial degus) from central Chile. Ventilatory tidal volume and respiratory frequency were measured in non-anaesthetized spontaneously breathing animals. Acute hypoxic challenges (O2 1–15%) and hypercapnia (CO2 10%) were induced to study respiratory strategies using non-invasive whole body pletismography techniques. Our results show that coruros have a larger ventilatory response to acute hypoxia as than degus. On the other hand, hypercapnic respiratory responses in coruros seem to be attenuated when compared to those in degus. Our results suggest that coruros and degus have different respiratory strategies to survive in the hypoxic and hypercapnic atmospheres present in their burrows.


Ventilatory response Hypoxia Hypercapnia Octodontids Rodents 



This study was supported by PEDECIBA (Programa de Desarrollo de las Ciencias Básicas), ANII (Agencia Nacional de Innovación e Investigación), PDT (Programa de Desarrollo tecnológico) from Uruguay, ASM (American Society of Mammologists) from USA, and CONICYT (Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica) from Chile. We thank Dr. Lessa for the idea and encouragement, Alejandra Chiesa and Carolina Abud for a revision of the manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. H. Tomasco
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. Del Río
    • 2
  • R. Iturriaga
    • 2
  • F. Bozinovic
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratorio de Evolución, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de la RepúblicaMontevideoUruguay
  2. 2.Laboratorio de Neurobiología, Facultad de Ciencias BiológicasP. Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología, Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ecología y Biodiversidad, Facultad de Ciencias BiológicasP. Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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