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Physiol Behav. 2015 Nov 1;151:617-22. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.09.002. Epub 2015 Sep 5.

Physiological and behavioural responses of a small heterothermic mammal to fire stimuli.

Author information

1
Centre for Behavioural and Physiological Ecology, Zoology, University of New England, Armidale, 2351 NSW, Australia. Electronic address: clare.stawski@gmail.com.
2
Centre for Behavioural and Physiological Ecology, Zoology, University of New England, Armidale, 2351 NSW, Australia.

Abstract

The predicted increase of the frequency and intensity of wildfires as a result of climate change could have a devastating impact on many species and ecosystems. However, the particular physiological and behavioural adaptions of animals to survive fires are poorly understood. We aimed to provide the first quantitative data on physiological and behavioural mechanisms used by a small heterothermic marsupial mammal, the fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata), that may be crucial for survival during and immediately after a fire. Specifically, we aimed to determine (i) whether captive torpid animals are able to respond to fire stimuli and (ii) which energy saving mechanisms are used in response to fires. The initial response of torpid dunnarts to smoke exposure was to arouse immediately and therefore express shorter and shallower torpor bouts. Dunnarts also increased activity after smoke exposure when food was provided, but not when food was withheld. A charcoal/ash substrate, imitating post-fire conditions, resulted in a decrease in torpor use and activity, but only when food was available. Our novel data suggests that heterothermic mammals are able to respond to fire stimuli, such as smoke, to arouse from torpor as an initial response to fire and adjust torpor use and activity levels according to food availability modulated by fire cues.

KEYWORDS:

Ash; Charcoal; Marsupial; Sminthopsis crassicaudata; Smoke; Torpor

PMID:
26343772
DOI:
10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.09.002
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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