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Šumbera, R. 2019. Thermal biology of a strictly subterranean mammalian family, the African mole-rats (Bathyergidae, Rodentia) - a review. Journal of Thermal Biology, 79: 166-189


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Thermal biology of a strictly subterranean mammalian family, the African mole-rats (Bathyergidae, Rodentia) - a review.

Summary / Notes:

African mole-rats are subterranean rodents, which rarely if ever leave the safety of their burrow systems. The environment of the burrows is humid, with relatively stable temperatures, and may have a hypoxic and hypercapnic atmosphere. One of crucial problems related to the subterranean way of life in mammals is avoidance of overheating, because traditional mammalian cooling mechanisms are not effective under high humidity. In African mole-rats, a variety of adaptations have evolved in response to this and other challenges of the underground ecotope. Traditionally, attention has been devoted mainly to the naked mole-rat Heterocephalus glaber, which became popular as a result of its eusociality and absence of fur, both being unique phenomena in small mammals. Despite more recent research, information on other species is still relatively limited and patchy. I review the results of studies on African mole-rats that are relevant for the understanding of their energetics and thermal biology. Attention is paid to the parameters of the burrow environment, which represent the main selection pressures shaping their physiology. In addition, an overview is given of the morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations helping mole-rats to face temperature extremes, mechanisms by which they deal with a surplus of metabolic heat and how changes in ambient temperature influence their daily activity. The naked mole-rat is compared to its furred relatives to determine whether this species is really exceptional from the point of thermal biology. An ordination analysis was conducted using published data on mole-rat body temperature, thermoneutral zone, resting metabolic rate and thermal conductance. Most of the variability in these characteristics was found to be explained by body mass, followed by temperature characteristics of climate, but not precipitation, of the species distributional ranges. This analysis shows that the naked mole-rat is comparable to the other mole-rat species in these physiological characteristics. Keywords: African mole-rats, Subterranean life, Thermoregulation, Sociality, Energetics, Protection against temperature extremes.

Year: 2019

Type: Journal Article

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