Infrared thermography: A non-invasive window into thermal physiology
Tattersall, Glenn J
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Infrared thermography is a non-invasive technique that measures mid to long-wave infrared radiation emanating from all objects and converts this to temperature. As an imaging technique, the value of modern infrared thermography is its ability to produce a digitized image or high speed video rendering a thermal map of the scene in false colour. Since temperature is an important environmental parameter influencing animal physiology and metabolic heat production an energetically expensive process, measuring temperature and energy exchange in animals is critical to understanding physiology, especially under field conditions. As a non-contact approach, infrared thermography provides a non-invasive complement to physiological data gathering. One caveat, however, is that only surface temperatures are measured, which guides much research to those thermal events occurring at the skin and insulating regions of the body. As an imaging technique, infrared thermal imaging is also subject to certain uncertainties that require physical modeling, which is typically done via built-in software approaches. Infrared thermal imaging has enabled different insights into the comparative physiology of phenomena ranging from thermogenesis, peripheral blood flow adjustments, evaporative cooling, and to respiratory physiology. In this review, I provide background and guidelines for the use of thermal imaging, primarily aimed at field physiologists and biologists interested in thermal biology. I also discuss some of the better known approaches and discoveries revealed from using thermal imaging with the objective of encouraging more quantitative assessment.