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J Exp Zool A Ecol Genet Physiol. 2012 Feb;317(2):73-82. doi: 10.1002/jez.723. Epub 2011 Nov 21.

Heterothermy in two mole-rat species subjected to interacting thermoregulatory challenges.

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Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.


Maintaining a high and constant body temperature (T(b) ) is often viewed as a fundamental benefit of endothermy, but variation in T(b) is likely the norm rather than an exception among endotherms. Thus, attempts to elucidate which factors cause T(b) of endotherms to deviate away from the T(b) that maximizes performance are becoming more common. One approach relies on an adaptive framework of thermoregulation, used for a long time to predict variation in T(b) of ectotherms, as a starting point to make predictions about the factors that should lead to thermoregulatory variation in endotherms. Here we test the predictions that when confronted with thermoregulatory challenges endotherms should (1) become more heterothermic, (2) lower their T(b) setpoint, and/or (3) increase behavioral thermoregulation (e.g., activity levels or social thermoregulation). We exposed two species of relatively homeothermic mole-rats to two such challenges: (a) ambient temperatures (T(a)) well below the thermoneutral zone and (b) increased heat loss caused by the removal of dorsal fur. In general, our results support the adaptive framework of endothermic thermoregulation with each species conforming to some of the predictions. For example, Mashona mole-rats (Fukomys darlingi) increased heterothermy as T(a) decreased, highveld mole-rats (Cryptomys hottentotus pretoriae) displayed lower T(b) 's after shaving, and both species increased behavioral thermoregulation as T(a) decreased. This suggests that there is some merit in extending the adaptive framework to endotherms. However, none of the three predictions we tested was supported under all experimental conditions, reiterating that attempts to determine universal factors causing variation in T(b) of endotherms may prove challenging.

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