Seasonal changes in thermogenesis of a free-ranging afrotherian small mammal, the Western rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus rupestris)

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Abstract

We report on the seasonal metabolic adjustments of a small-sized member of the phylogenetically ancient Afrotheria, the Western rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus rupestris). We recorded body temperature (T b) patterns and compared the capacity for adrenergically induced nonshivering thermogenesis (NST) in E. rupestris captured in the wild in summer and winter. Noradrenaline (NA) treatment (0.4-0.5 mg/kg, s.c.) induced a pronounced elevation in oxygen consumption compared to controls (saline), and the increase in oxygen consumption following injection of NA was 1.8-fold higher in winter compared to summer. This suggests that the smaller members of Afrotheria possess functional brown adipose tissue, which changes in thermogenic capacity depending on the season. Torpor was recorded in both seasons, but in winter the incidence of torpor was higher (n = 205 out of 448 observations) and minimal T b during torpor was lower (T bmin: 11.9°C) than in summer (n = 24 out of 674 observations; T bmin: 26°C). In addition to cold, high air humidity emerged as a likely predictor for torpor entry. Overall, E. rupestris showed a high degree of thermoregulatory plasticity, which was mainly reflected in a variable timing of torpor entry and arousal. We conclude that E. rupestris exhibits seasonal metabolic adjustments comparable to what has been long known for many Holarctic rodents. © 2012 Springer-Verlag.

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Oelkrug, R., Meyer, C. W., Heldmaier, G., & Mzilikazi, N. (2012). Seasonal changes in thermogenesis of a free-ranging afrotherian small mammal, the Western rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus rupestris). Journal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology, 182(5), 715–727. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-012-0647-x

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