Level and precision of behavioural thermoregulation in the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps : effects of hypoxia and environmental thermal quality /
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Most metabolic functions are optimized within a narrow range of body temperatures, which is why thermoregulation is of great importance for the survival and overall fitness of an animal. It has been proposed that lizards will thermoregulate less precisely in low thermal quality environments, where the costs associated with thermoregulation are high; in the case of lizards, whose thermoregulation is mainly behavioural, the primary costs ofthermoregulation are those derived from locomotion. Decreasing thermoregulatory precision in costly situations is a strategy that enhances fitness by allowing lizards to be more flexible to changing environmental conditions. It allows animals to maximize the benefits of maintaining a relatively high body temperature while minimizing energy expenditure. In situations where oxygen concentration is low, the costs of thermoregulation are relatively high (i.e. in relation to the amount of oxygen available for metabolic functions). As a result, it is likely that exposures to hypoxic conditions induce a decrease in the precision of thermoregulation. This study evaluated the effects of hypoxia and low environmental thermal quality, two energetically costly conditions, on the precision and level of thermoregulation in the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps, in an electronic temperature-choice shuttle box. Four levels of hypoxia (1O, 7, 5 and 4% 02) were tested. Environmental thermal quality was manipulated by varying the rate of temperature change (oTa) in an electronic temperature-choice shuttle box. Higher oT a's translate into more thermally challenging environments, since under these conditions the animals are forced to move a greater number of times (and hence invest more energy in locomotion) to maintain similar temperatures than at lower oTa's. In addition, lizards were tested in an "extreme temperatures" treatment during which air temperatures of the hot and cold compartments of the shuttle box were maintained at a constant 50 and 15°C respectively. This was considered the most thermally challenging environment. The selected ambient (T a) and internal body temperatures (Tb) of bearded dragons, as well as the thermoregulatory precision (measured by the central 68% ofthe Ta and T b distribution) were evaluated. The thermoregulatory response was similar to both conditions. A significant increase in the size of the Tb range, reflecting a decrease in thermoregulatory precision, and a drop in preferred body temperature of ~2 °C, were observed at both 4% oxygen and at the environment of lowest thermal quality. The present study suggests that in energetically costly situations, such as the ones tested in this study, the bearded dragon reduces energy expenditure by decreasing preferred body temperature and minimizing locomotion, at the expense of precise behavioural thermoregulation. The close similarity of the behavioural thermoregulatory response to two very different stimuli suggests a possible common mechanism and neuronal pathway to the thermoregulatory response.