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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2003 Jul-Aug;76(4):522-32.

Merriam's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) voluntarily select temperatures that conserve energy rather than water.

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Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA.


Desert endotherms such as Merriam's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami) use both behavioral and physiological means to conserve energy and water. The energy and water needs of kangaroo rats are affected by their thermal environment. Animals that choose temperatures within their thermoneutral zone (TNZ) minimize energy expenditure but may impair water balance because the ratio of water loss to water gain is high. At temperatures below the TNZ, water balance may be improved because animals generate more oxidative water and reduce evaporative water loss; however, they must also increase energy expenditure to maintain a normal body temperature. Hence, it is not possible for kangaroo rats to choose thermal environments that simultaneously minimize energy expenditure and increase water conservation. I used a thermal gradient to test whether water stress, energy stress, simultaneous water and energy stress, or no water/energy stress affected the thermal environment selected by D. merriami. During the night (i.e., active phase), animals in all four treatments chose temperatures near the bottom of their TNZ. During the day (i.e., inactive phase), animals in all four treatments settled at temperatures near the top of their TNZ. Thus, kangaroo rats chose thermal environments that minimized energy requirements, not water requirements. Because kangaroo rats have evolved high water use efficiency, energy conservation may be more important than water conservation to the fitness of extant kangaroo rats.

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