• Seasonal changes in behavioural and thermoregulatory responses to hypoxia in the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) /

      Levesque, Danielle L.; Department of Biological Sciences (Brock University, 2008-06-15)
      Mammalian heterotherms, such as hibemators, are known to be more tolerant of low oxygen tensions than their homeothermic counterparts. It has been suggested that this relative hypoxia tolerance is related to their ability to deal with dramatic changes in body temperature during entry to and arousal from torpor. However, hibemators demonstrate dramatic seasonality in both daily heterothermy and overall torpor expression. It was of interest to test if seasonal comparisons of normothermic individuals within a single species with the capacity to hibernate produce changes in the response to hypoxia that would reflect a seasonal change in tolerance to low oxygen. In particular, the species studied, the Eastern chipmunk {Tamias striatus), is known to enter into torpor exclusively in the winter. To test for seasonal differences in the metabolic and thermoregulatory responses to hypoxia, flow-through respirometry was used to compare metabolic rate, minimum thermal conductance, body temperature, and a thermal gradient used to assess selected ambient temperature in response to hypoxia in both summer and winter acclimated animals. Although the animals periodically expressed torpor throughout the winter, no differences between season in resting metabolic rate, body temperature or minimum thermal conductance were observed in normoxia. The metabolic trials indicated that chipmunks are less responsive to hypoxia in the winter than they are in the summer. Although body temperature dropped in response to hypoxia in both seasons, the decrease was less in the winter, and there was no corresponding decrease in metabolic rate. Providing the animals with a choice of ambient temperatures in hypoxia resulted in a blunting of the drop in body temperature in both seasons, suggesting that the reported fall in body temperature set point in hypoxia is not fully manifested in the behavioural pathways responsible for thermoregulation in chipmunks. Instead, body temperature in hypoxia appears to be highly dependent on ambient temperature and oxygen concentration. The results of this study suggest that the season in which the responses to hypoxia are measured is important, especially in a heterotherm where seasonality can affect the degree to 1 which the animal is tolerant of hypoxia. Winter-acclimated chipmunks appear more capable of defending metabolic heat production in hypoxia, a response consistent with the increased thermogenic capacity observed in animals that must periodically enter and arouse from torpor during hibernation.