Horizons in Starvation Research

  • Marshall D. McCue


All the chapters in this volume draw attention to the remarkable recent progress that has been made in documenting how different animals respond to voluntary or involuntary starvation. Here, I outline how this progress has led to a new horizon of research prospects and provide some examples of promising new areas of investigation. We generally acknowledge that starvation has shaped the evolutionary history of animals, but we know much less about how variation in starvation tolerance may have favored some lineages over others and to what different extent modern animals are suited to tolerate natural environment-induced anthropogenic changes in food resources. Moreover, it is clear that our progress in identifying the behavioral and physiological adaptations that animals have evolved to tolerate prolonged starvation has not kept pace with our understanding of the potential tradeoffs associated with such adaptations. We take it for granted that food limitation is an important circumstance in regulating the populations of many wild animals, yet we need more studies that quantitatively document this factor in the wild. Such studies will lend themselves to opportunities to improve and expand the techniques we use to monitor nutritional stress among wild animals. For most animals, lipids are the most important fuel source during prolonged fasting and starvation; however, we have only begun to consider how starvation influences the composition of fatty acids in the body, and how this fatty acid composition affects starvation tolerance. A growing number of recent studies have documented starvation-induced hypometabolic responses in a variety of species. Unfortunately, to date, we have little insight into the specific regulatory mechanisms that enable these adaptive responses. Many types of animals host enormous populations of intestinal symbionts that rival the number of cells in their own bodies; however, we know little about how starvation alters the communities of gut microflora, and more importantly the repercussions that these microecological disturbances may have on the host organism. Overall, I believe that the future of starvation research is promising as long as we recognize that significant progress requires an integrative approach and the expertise of researchers in many subfields of biology.


Trans Fatty Acid Basal Metabolic Rate Nutritional Stress Standard Metabolic Rate Metabolic Fuel 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I wish to thank Berry Pinshow and Miri Ben-Hamo for helpful comments on this chapter.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesSt. Mary’s UniversitySan AntonioUSA

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