Hypoxia pp 153-167 | Cite as

Common themes of adaptation to hypoxia

Insights from comparative physiology
  • Susan R. Hopkins
  • Frank L. Powell
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 502)


Many vertebrate animals have superior tolerance to environmental hypoxia compared to humans. For example, turtles tolerate an environment of 100% N2 for several hours, without apparent ill effect. This hypoxia tolerance is not limited to heterotherms, as some species of marine mammals, such as the northern elephant seal, may voluntarily dive for periods of up to 2 hours. Torpid bats exhibit prolonged periods of apnea and passive diffusion of oxygen down their trachea through an open glottis supplies a significant amount of the oxygen uptake. The Ruppell’s griffon holds the known avian record of flight at 11,278 m, and other birds regularly migrate at altitudes over 8000m. These animals exhibit diverse adaptations for tolerating their hypoxic environment, many of which are poorly understood. Some of theses strategies include 1) the ability to lower metabolic rate when exposed to hypoxia 2) the ability to recruit alternate biochemical pathways for energy production 3) a left shifted oxy-hemoglobin dissociation curve 4) more efficient pulmonary gas exchange 5) the ability to alter blood flow distribution under hypoxic stress. Although there are common themes of animal adaptation to hypoxic stress, many animal solutions are unique.

Key words

hypoxia tolerance anoxia gas exchange comparative physiology P50 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan R. Hopkins
    • 1
  • Frank L. Powell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medicine, Division of Physiology, and White Mountain Research StationUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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