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Integr Comp Biol. 2011 Nov;51(5):676-90. doi: 10.1093/icb/icr053. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

Adaptive thermoregulation in endotherms may alter responses to climate change.

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DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria 0002, South Africa.


Climate change is one of the major issues facing natural populations and thus a focus of recent research has been to predict the responses of organisms to these changes. Models are becoming more complex and now commonly include physiological traits of the organisms of interest. However, endothermic species have received less attention than have ectotherms in these mechanistic models. Further, it is not clear whether responses of endotherms to climate change are modified by variation in thermoregulatory characteristics associated with phenotypic plasticity and/or adaptation to past selective pressures. Here, we review the empirical data on thermal adaptation and acclimatization in endotherms and discuss how those factors may be important in models of responses to climate change. We begin with a discussion of why thermoregulation and thermal sensitivity at high body temperatures should be co-adapted. Importantly, we show that there is, in fact, considerable variation in the ability of endotherms to tolerate high body temperatures and/or high environmental temperatures, but a better understanding of this variation will likely be critical for predicting responses to future climatic scenarios. Next, we discuss why variation in thermoregulatory characteristics should be considered when modeling the effects of climate change on heterothermic endotherms. Finally, we review some biophysical and biochemical factors that will limit adaptation and acclimation in endotherms. We consider both long-term, directional climate change and short-term (but increasingly common) anomalies in climate such as extreme heat waves and we suggest areas of important future research relating to both our basic understanding of endothermic thermoregulation and the responses of endotherms to climate change.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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