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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 May 22;276(1663):1921-7. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1936. Epub 2009 Mar 4.

Trade-offs between activity and thermoregulation in a small carnivore, the least weasel Mustela nivalis.

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  • 1Mammal Research Institute PAS17-230 Białowieza, Poland.


We studied factors influencing daily energy expenditures (DEE) of male least weasels (Mustela nivalis) using the doubly labelled water technique. The relationship between ambient temperature and DEE formed a triangular pattern, characterized by invariance of the maximum DEE and an inverse relationship between minimum DEE and temperature. A simple energetic model relating the DEE of male weasels to activity time (AT) and ambient temperature predicted that, across seasons, less than 10 per cent of measurements approach the upper bound of observed DEE. Male weasels were able to maintain a relatively constant maximum energy output across varying temperatures by adjusting their AT to changes in temperature. They achieved maximum energy expenditures in winter due to high thermoregulatory costs, and in spring and summer due to high levels of physical activity. This pattern exemplifies a 'metabolic niche' of a small mammal having extremely high energy expenditures primarily driven by ambient temperature.

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