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Phenotypic plasticity to chronic cold exposure in two species of Peromyscus from different environments

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Abstract

Effective thermoregulation is important for mammals, particularly those that remain winter-active. Adjustments in thermoregulatory capacity in response to chronic cold can improve capacities for metabolic heat production (cold-induced maximal oxygen consumption, \({\dot{\text{V}}\text{O}}_{{2}} {\text{max}}\)), minimize rates of heat loss (thermal conductance), or both. This can be challenging for animals living in chronically colder habitats where necessary resources (i.e., food, O2) for metabolic heat production are limited. Here we used lowland native white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) and highland deer mice (P. maniculatus) native to 4300 m, to test the hypothesis that small winter-active mammals have evolved distinct cold acclimation responses to tailor their thermal physiology based on the energetic demands of their environment. We found that both species increased their \({\dot{\text{V}}\text{O}}_{{2}} {\text{max}}\) after cold acclimation, associated with increases in brown adipose tissue mass and expression of uncoupling protein 1. They also broadened their thermoneutral zone to include lower ambient temperatures. This was accompanied by an increase in basal metabolic rate but only in white-footed mice, and neither species adjusted thermal conductance. Unique to highland deer mice was a mild hypothermia as ambient temperatures decreased, which reduced the gradient for heat loss, possibly to save energy in the chronically cold high alpine. These results highlight that thermal acclimation involves coordinated plasticity of numerous traits and suggest that small, winter-active mammals may adjust different aspects of their physiology in response to changing temperatures to best suit their energetic and thermoregulatory needs.

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Funding

This research was funded by a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant to G.B.M. G.B.M. was also a recipient of an NSERC Discovery Accelerator grant. C.E.R. was the recipient of a NSERC postgraduate scholarship.

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Correspondence to Grant B. McClelland.

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Communicated by G. Heldmaier.

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Hayward, L., Robertson, C.E. & McClelland, G.B. Phenotypic plasticity to chronic cold exposure in two species of Peromyscus from different environments. J Comp Physiol B 192, 335–348 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-021-01423-4

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