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Seasonal variations in basal metabolic rate, lower critical temperature and responses to temporary starvation in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) from Svalbard

Abstract

Metabolic rates of four resting, post-absorptive male adult summer- and winter-adapted captive arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) were recorded. Basal metabolic rates (BMR) varied seasonally with a 36% increase from winter to summer, while body mass was reduced by 17% in the same period. The lower critical temperature (T 1c) of the winter-adapted arctic fox was estimated to −7°C, whereas T lc during summer was 5°C. The similarity of these values, which are much higher than hitherto assumed (e.g. Scholander et al. 1950b), is mainly due to a significantly (P<0.05) lower BMR in winter than in summer. Body core (stomach) temperature was stable, even at ambient temperatures as low as −45°C, but showed a significant (P<0.05) seasonal variation, being lower in winter (39.3±0.33°C) than in summer (39.8±0.16°C). The thermal conductivity of arctic fox fur was the same during both seasons, whereas the thermal conductance in winter was lower than in summer. This was reflected in an increase in fur thickness of 140% from summer to winter, and in a reduced metabolic response to ambient temperatures below T lc in winter. Another four arctic foxes were exposed to three periods of forced starvation, each lasting 8 days during winter, when body mass is in decline. No significant reduction in mass specific BMR was observed during the exposure to starvation, and respiratory quotient was unchanged at 0.73±0.02 during the first 5 days, but dropped significantly (P<0.05) to 0.69±0.03 at day 7. Locomotor activity and body core (intraperitoneal) temperature was unaltered throughout the starvation period, but body mass was reduced by 18.5±2.1% during these periods. Upon re-feeding, locomotor activity was significantly (P<0.05) reduced for about 6 days. Energy intake was almost doubled, but stabilised at normal levels after 11 days. Body mass increased, but not to the level before the starvation episodes. Instead, body mass increased until it reached the reduced body mass of ad libitum fed control animals. This indicates that body mass in the arctic fox is regulated according to a seasonally changing set point.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Professor James B. Mercer for help during the initial phase of the study, Hans P. Bergland for assistance in capturing foxes in Svalbard, Hans E. Lian for help in maintaining the animals at Tromsø, and professor Lars Walløe, University of Oslo, for assistance in connection with statistical analyses. This study was financed in part by contributions from the Roald Amundsen Center for Arctic Research, University of Tromsø.

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Correspondence to Arnoldus Schytte Blix.

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Fuglesteg, B.N., Haga, Ø.E., Folkow, L.P. et al. Seasonal variations in basal metabolic rate, lower critical temperature and responses to temporary starvation in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) from Svalbard. Polar Biol 29, 308–319 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-005-0054-9

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Keywords

  • Metabolic Rate
  • Locomotor Activity
  • Basal Metabolic Rate
  • Body Core
  • Rest Metabolic Rate