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Annu Rev Physiol. 2010;72:147-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021909-135837.

Light, time, and the physiology of biotic response to rapid climate change in animals.

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Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-5289, USA.


Examination of temperate and polar regions of Earth shows that the nonbiological world is exquisitely sensitive to the direct effects of temperature, whereas the biological world is largely organized by light. Herein, we discuss the use of day length by animals at physiological and genetic levels, beginning with a comparative experimental study that shows the preeminent role of light in determining fitness in seasonal environments. Typically, at seasonally appropriate times, light initiates a cascade of physiological events mediating the input and interpretation of day length to the output of specific hormones that ultimately determine whether animals prepare to develop, reproduce, hibernate, enter dormancy, or migrate. The mechanisms that form the basis of seasonal time keeping and their adjustment during climate change are reviewed at the physiological and genetic levels. Future avenues for research are proposed that span basic questions from how animals transition from dependency on tropical cues to temperate cues during range expansions, to more applied questions of species survival and conservation biology during periods of climatic stress.

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