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Reexamining echidna physiology: the big picture for Tachyglossus aculeatus acanthion


Barker, JM and Cooper, CE and Withers, PC and Nicol, SC, Reexamining echidna physiology: the big picture for Tachyglossus aculeatus acanthion, Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 89, (3) pp. 169-181. ISSN 1522-2152 (2016) [Refereed Article]

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2016 by The University of Chicago

DOI: doi:10.1086/686716


The early divergence of monotremes and therian mammals has resulted in considerable interest in the comparative physiology of the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), the most common and widespread living monotreme. However, there are many and varied interpretations of its physiology, reflecting the many and varied studies, limitations and uncertainties of aspects of some previous studies, and potential differences between the various subspecies. Consequently, we thoroughly examine here the standardized physiology of the most widely distributed subspecies of short-beaked echidna (T. aculeatus acanthion) over a wide range of ambient temperatures to definitively assess its physiology in a comparative context. We conclude that the low and variable body temperature of the short-beaked echidna is physiologically "primitive," but it also reflects adaptation to its myrmecophagous niche. Other aspects of its physiology are more typically mammalian. A low metabolic rate reflects its low body temperature, and ventilatory variables are matched to accommodate a modest gas exchange requirement. Thermal conductance is typical for a mammal of equivalent mass. In contrast to previous studies, we demonstrate that short-beaked echidnas can enhance evaporative water loss above thermoneutrality, like other mammals, with a similar capacity for evaporative heat loss. Cooling of their nasal blood sinus with nasal mucous may contribute to this enhanced evaporative cooling. Their capacity to evaporatively cool explains how their distribution can include habitats where ambient temperature, even in shelters, exceeds their supposed critical thermal limit.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:monotreme, body temperature, metabolism, ventilation, evaporative water loss
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Ecological physiology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Nicol, SC (Associate Professor Stewart Nicol)
ID Code:116924
Year Published:2016
Web of Science® Times Cited:5
Deposited By:Biological Sciences
Deposited On:2017-05-25
Last Modified:2017-11-01
Downloads:157 View Download Statistics

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