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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2010 Mar;155(3):383-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2009.12.008. Epub 2009 Dec 21.

Plasticity in body temperature and metabolic capacity sustains winter activity in a small endotherm (Rattus fuscipes).

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, Integrative Physiology Research Group, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

Erratum in

  • Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2010 Sep;157(1):109.


Small mammals that remain active throughout the year at a constant body temperature have a much greater energy and food requirement in winter. Lower body temperatures in winter may offset the increased energetic cost of remaining active in the cold, if cellular metabolism is not constrained by a negative thermodynamic effect. We aimed to determine whether variable body temperatures can be advantageous for small endotherms by testing the hypothesis that body temperature fluctuates seasonally in a wild rat (Rattus fuscipes); conferring an energy saving and reducing food requirements during resource restricted winter. Additionally we tested whether changes in body temperature affected tissue specific metabolic capacity. Winter acclimatized rats had significantly lower body temperatures and thicker fur than summer acclimatized rats. Mitochondrial oxygen consumption and the activity of enzymes that control oxidative (citrate synthase, cytochrome c-oxidase) and anaerobic (lactate dehydrogenase) metabolism were elevated in winter and were not negatively affected by the lower body temperature. Energy transfer modeling showed that lower body temperatures in winter combined with increased fur thickness to confer a 25 kJ day(-1) energy saving, with up to 50% owing to reduced body temperature alone. We show that phenotypic plasticity at multiple levels of organization is an important component of the response of a small endotherm to winter. Mitochondrial function compensates for lower winter body temperatures, buffering metabolic heat production capacity.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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