Energetics and thermal adaptation in semifossorial pine-voles Microtus lusitanicus and Microtus duodecimcostatus

Abstract

Rodents colonising subterranean environments have developed several morphological, physiological and behaviour traits that promote the success of individuals in such demanding conditions. Resting metabolic rate, thermoregulation capacity and daily energy expenditure were analysed in two semi-fossorial pine-vole species Microtus lusitanicus and Microtus duodecimcostatus inhabiting distinct areas of the Iberian Peninsula. Individuals capture location varied in habitat and soil features, allowing the comparison of energetic parameters with ecological characteristics, that can help explain the use of the subterranean environment and dependence of the burrow system. Results showed that M. duodecimcostatus has lower mass independent resting metabolic rate when compared with M. lusitanicus, which may be a response to environmental features of their habitat, such as dryer soils and lower water availability. Thermal conductance increased with body mass and was dependent on the ambient temperature. No significant differences were observed in the daily energy expenditure, but water economy data demonstrated the influence of the water available in the habitat on the energetics of voles. These species may rely on behavioural adaptations and seasonal use of burrows to cope with thermal challenges of subterranean activity and soil constraints. We found strong evidence that M. lusitanicus is able to use torpor as a response to low ambient temperatures which is a new observation among Arvicolines.

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Acknowledgements

Acknowledgments are due for the financial support to Centre for environment and marine studies (UID/AMB/50017-POCI-01-0145-FEDER-007638), to Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia through national funds (PIDDAC), and the co-funding by the FEDER, within the PT2020 Partnership Agreement and Compete 2020. RIM was supported by fellowship BPD/UI88/7346/2016 and JRS was supported by the 1000 talents program of the Chinese government. We thank the three anonymous referees for their valuable comments on this manuscript.

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Monarca, R.I., Speakman, J.R. & Mathias, M. Energetics and thermal adaptation in semifossorial pine-voles Microtus lusitanicus and Microtus duodecimcostatus. J Comp Physiol B 189, 309–318 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-019-01205-z

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Keywords

  • Doubly labelled water
  • Resting metabolic rate
  • Water turnover
  • Digging energetics