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Annu Rev Physiol. 2004;66:209-38.

Field physiology: physiological insights from animals in nature.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA.


Whereas comparative physiology documents the range of physiological variation across a range of organisms, field physiology provides insight into the actual mechanisms an organism employs to maintain homeostasis in its everyday life. This requires an understanding of an organism's natural history and is prerequisite to developing hypotheses about physiological mechanisms. This review focuses on a few areas of field physiology that exemplify how the underlying physiology could not have been understood without appropriate field measurements. The examples we have chosen highlight the methods and inference afforded by an application of this physiological analysis to organismal function in nature, often in extreme environments. The specific areas examined are diving physiology, the thermal physiology of large endothermic fishes, reproductive physiology of air breathing vertebrates, and endocrine physiology of reproductive homeostasis. These areas form a bridge from physiological ecology to evolutionary ecology. All our examples revolve around the central issue of physiological limits as they apply to organismal homeostasis. We view this theme as the cornerstone of physiological analysis and supply a number of paradigms on homeostasis that have been tested in the context of field physiology.

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