Seasonal thermoregulatory responses in mammals

Abstract

This study examined the proportional seasonal winter adjustments of total and mass-specific basal power (watts and watts g−1, respectively), thermal conductance (watts g−1 °C−1), non-shivering thermogenesis capacity (ratio of NST/basal power), body temperature (°C), and body mass (g) of mammals. The responses are best summarized for three different body size classes; small mammals (<100 g), intermediate-sized mammals (0.1–10 kg), and large mammals (>10 kg). The principal adjustments of the small mammals center on energy conservation, especially the Dehnel Effect, the winter reduction in body size of as much as 50%, accompanied by reductions in mass-specific basal power. On average, these reductions reduce the total basal power approximately in direct proportion to the mass reductions. Reductions in mass-specific basal power are matched by concomitant reductions in conductance to maintain the setpoint body temperature during winter. The overall thermoregulatory adjustments in small mammals serve to (a) lower overall winter power consumption, (b) maintain the setpoint body temperature, and (c) lower the lower critical limit of thermoneutrality and hence thermoregulatory costs. In intermediate-size mammals, the seasonal response is centered more on increasing thermogenic capacity by increasing basal power and NST capacity, accompanied by predictable and large reductions in conductance. The Dehnel effect is negligible. Very large mammals undergo the largest reductions in total and mass-specific basal power and conductance. However, there are too few data to resolve whether the reductions in total basal power can be attributed to the Dehnel effect, because the moderate decreases in body mass may also be caused by nutritional stress. Apart from the seasonal changes in basal power, these observations are consistent with the predictions of Heldmaier’s seasonal acclimatization model.

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Acknowledgements

This research was financed by grants from the National Research Foundation and the University of Natal Research Fund.

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Correspondence to Barry G. Lovegrove.

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Communicated by G. Heldmaier

Appendices

Appendix 1

Table a Seasonal thermoregulatory parameters for mammals that were either acclimated to laboratory summer and winter conditions (photoperiod and ambient temperature) or were acclimatized in their natural habitats or outside enclosures. Abbreviations for zoogeographical zones: AfAfrotropical, HHolarctic, AuAustralasian, NNeotropical.

Appendix 2

The phylogeny of all mammals whose data were used in the various multiple regression models. The letters that follow each species indicate whether the species data was used in each of the four major analyses, namely (a) the winter change in body mass, (b) the winter change in total basal power, (c) the winter change in body temperature, and d) the winter change in NST. Branch lengths were assigned according to an arbitrary algorithm (Pagel 1992). The topologies were taken from Lovegrove (2002, 2003) and Lovegrove and Haines (2004).

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Lovegrove, B.G. Seasonal thermoregulatory responses in mammals. J Comp Physiol B 175, 231–247 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-005-0477-1

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Keywords

  • Small Mammal
  • Large Mammal
  • Daily Torpor
  • Seasonal Adjustment
  • Seasonal Acclimatization