Congratulations to Danilo Giacometti for proving that applying for scholarships/grants can pay off. Recently he found out he was the recipient of the Roger Conant award to support his salamander thermal biology research AND a travel award to attend the upcoming SSAR in Virginia AND he most recently found out that he has been invited to attend the RIBBiTR workshop in Costa Rica to learn techniques on research into conservation in amphibians.
Our paper “Energetic costs of bill heat exchange demonstrate contributions to thermoregulation at high temperatures in toco toucans (Ramphastos toco)” was just accepted for publication in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
This research project was from Jussara Chaves’ MSc thesis done at UNESP, Rio Claro, Brasil with Dr. Denis Andrade.
We showed that insulating the bill does not alter the width of the thermal neutral zone, suggesting the toco toucan has the capacity to compensate for the sudden reduction in heat transfer from the bill, but at higher temperatures the normal role of the bill in assisting with heat dissipation becomes more clear. Birds with insulated bills show significantly higher metabolic costs of heat dissipation. Since the primary avenues for dissipating heat at high ambient temperatures are evaporative cooling, the compensatory mechanisms involve an increased reliance on panting and gular fluttering, which are metabolically costly. These results indicate that while heat dissipation through the bill does not contribute significantly to widening of the TNZ, it may well be critically important in assisting body temperature regulation at higher temperatures extending above the upper limit of the TNZ.
Chaves, J.N, Tattersall, GJ, and Andrade, DV. 2023. Energetic costs of bill heat exchange demonstrate contributions to thermoregulation at high temperatures in toco toucans (Ramphastos toco).Journal of Experimental Biology, 226, jeb245268. doi:10.1242/jeb.245268.
We wish to acknowledge Guilherme Gomes and Ariovaldo Pereira da Cruz-Neto for assistance with experiments and preliminary data analysis, and Luá T. Timpone and Adriana Fuga for assistance with animal care.
Our study on star-nosed moles was recently accepted in the Journal of Experimental Biology! In it we (myself and Kevin Campbell from University of Manitoba) present on a curious observation that the fleshy, tentacled nose of the star-nosed mole does not show much evidence for elevated blood flow, even when the moles encounter warm temperatures. Indeed, the highly mechanosensitive nasal rays of the star-nosed mole thermo-conform closely with ambient temperature thereby minimizing heat loss without apparent changes in sensory performance. Because this was a non-invasive study, we have to use thermo-conformation as a proxy for blood flow, and discover that they really don’t have high blood flow to the rays!
Abstract of the study
The star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) is renowned for its densely innervated 22 appendage star-like rostrum (‘star’) specialised for tactile sensation. As a northerly distributed insectivorous mammal exploiting aquatic and terrestrial habitats, these vascularized nasal rays are regularly exposed to cold water and thermally conductive soil, leading us to ask whether the star surface temperature, a proxy for blood flow, conforms to the local ambient temperature to conserve body heat. Alternatively, given the exquisite sensory nature of the star, we posited that the uninsulated rays may be kept warm when foraging to maintain high mechanosensory function. To test these hypotheses, we remotely monitored surface temperatures in wild-caught star-nosed moles. While the tail acted as a thermal window exhibiting clear vasoconstriction/vasodilation, the star varied passively in surface temperature, with little evidence for thermoregulatory vasomotion. This thermoconforming response may have evolved to minimize conductive heat loss to the water or wet soils when foraging.
Note: WordPress may have mangled the videos. Looking into fixing….
This work took place in Northern Ontario in the summer 2022, as the first sabbatical project I took on board this past year. Kevin Campbell was hosting two film crews out at his field site, and invited me to “tag along” (i.e. research) with the group. My lab been interested in the inter-play between temperature and sensory functions (plus a 4th year course I teach concerns neuro-ethology and sensory ecology/physiology, so this was a fun way to explore teaching/research overlap). Best (and only) two weeks I have ever spent working in a garage/film set. Also, no trip to northern Ontario would be complete without a picture of the resident loon from the cottage.
We thank Josh Campbell for assistance with mole capture, and the British Broadcasting Corporation Studios Natural History Unit for accommodating this study. This research was supported by NSERC Discovery Grants to GJT (RGPIN-2020-05089) and KLC (RGPIN-2016-06562) and an NSERC Research Tools and Instrumentation Grant to GJT (NSERC RTI-2021-00278).
Our study that started in 2017 has finally been published! Congratulations to Dr. Erich Eberts, who was project lead for this project while he was finishing his undergraduate degree at Loyola Marymount University, and who stuck with the writing, analysis, and manuscript handling. It is rather apt that the study was accepted and In Press around about the same time that Dr. Eberts defended his PhD!
Here is the abstract:
Reproduction entails a trade-off between short-term energetic costs and long-term fitness benefits. This is especially apparent in small endotherms that exhibit high mass-specific metabolic rates and live in unpredictable environments. Many of these animals use torpor, substantially reducing their metabolic rate and often body temperature to cope with high energetic demands during non-foraging periods. In birds, when the incubating parent uses torpor, the lowered temperatures that thermally sensitive offspring experience could delay development or increase mortality risk. We used thermal imaging to noninvasively explore how nesting female hummingbirds sustain their own energy balance while effectively incubating their offspring. We located 67 active Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) nests in Los Angeles, California and recorded nightly time-lapse thermal images at 14 of these nests for 108 nights using thermal cameras. We found that nesting females usually avoided entering torpor, with one bird entering deep torpor on two nights (2% of nights), and two other birds possibly using shallow torpor on three nights (3% of nights). We also modeled nightly energetic requirements of a bird experiencing nest temperatures vs. ambient temperature and using torpor or remaining normothermic, using data from similarly-sized broad-billed hummingbirds. Overall, we suggest that the warm environment of the nest, and possibly shallow torpor, help brooding female hummingbirds reduce their own energy requirements while prioritizing the energetic demands of their offspring.
Eberts, ER, Tattersall, GJ, Auger, PJ, Curley, M, Morado, MI, Strauss, EG, Powers, DR, Camacho, NM, Tobalske, BW, and Shankar, A. 2022. Free-living Allen’s hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin) rarely use torpor while nesting. Journal of Thermal Biology. Available online 5 December 2022, 103391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2022.103391
We thank the numerous undergraduate assistants who completed much of the nest searching, equipment maintenance, and data collection, CURes, the LMU grounds and facilities maintenance staff for assisting with the location of and access to nests. We also thank Susan Wethington for providing broad-bill hummingbird nests. We also thank Welch lab members (University of Toronto) for helpful discussions. We especially thank our crowdfunding campaign donors who participated in the Experiment.com crowd-source campaign and FLIR Systems for their support.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light has both physiological benefits as well as costs. Many lepidosaur reptiles can behaviourally self-regulate their exposure to UV light in order to take advantage of the benefits of UV light while minimizing the costs. Furthermore, lepidosaur scales have been conceptualized by some as a barrier to the penetration of UV light.
In a recently published study, we (Nick Sakich, recent graduate from the lab) examine regulation of self-exposure to UV light in three different phenotypes of Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps): wild type, animals exhibiting scales of reduced prominence (‘Leatherback’), and scaleless animals (‘Silkback’). These scaleless mutants have arisen in the captive reptile husbandry industry. All phenotypes were tested in a 3 chamber system, offered 3 different intensity of standard basking lamps to assess how long they spent under each UV lamp.
Silkbacks on average chose to expose themselves to lower levels of UV light irradiation than Leatherbacks or wild types did, which suggests that the ability for UV to penetration through the skin is diminished in normal scaled phenotypes.
Simultaneously, we tested their self-exposure behaviour while they were able to choose cold or warm temperatures. Bearded Dragons of all scalation phenotypes received higher UV irradiation when they were in the cold section of a UV gradient apparatus compared to when they were in the hot section of the apparatus. This either demonstrates that Bearded Dragons under higher UV irradiances choose cooler temperatures or demonstrates that Bearded Dragons at cooler temperatures choose higher UV irradiances. The relationship between chosen temperature and chosen UV light irradiance was not affected by scalation phenotype.
This study highlights external influences on the mechanism that regulates UV self-exposure behavior in lepidosaur reptiles. Scales are apparently a barrier to UV absorbance, and thus scaleless lizards need to adjust their time exposed to UV light.
One logical interpretation the temperature sensitive UV seeking behaviour shows evidence that when cold, lizards may adopt UV seeking behaviour in an attempt to bask (i.e. an attempt to warm up) as would happen in the wild when basking in the sun. In our study, the UV bulbs were fluorescent bulbs and not radiant bulbs, and thus lizards may spend preferentially more time exposed to UV as part of their natural basking behaviour.
Alternatively, please request access to a pdf from Researchgate.
Sakich, N and Tattersall, GJ. 2022. Regulation of exposure to ultraviolet light in bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) in relation to temperature and scalation phenotype. Ichthyology and Herpetology, 110: 477-488. https://doi.org/10.1643/h2020134
Bergmann’s and Allen’s rules state that endotherms should be larger and have shorter appendages in cooler climates. However, the drivers of these rules are not clear. Both rules could be explained by adaptation for improved thermoregulation, including plastic responses to temperature in early life.
Our study has just been published in Nature Communications here:
Non-thermal explanations are also plausible as climate impacts other factors that influence size and shape, including starvation risk, predation risk, and foraging ecology. In this study, we assess the potential drivers of Bergmann’s and Allen’s rules in 30 shorebird species using extensive field data (>200,000 observations). We show birds in hot, tropical northern Australia have longer bills and smaller bodies than conspecifics in temperate, southern Australia, conforming with both ecogeographical rules.
This pattern is consistent across ecologically diverse species, including migratory birds that spend early life in the Arctic. Our findings best support the hypothesis that thermoregulatory adaptation to warm climates drives latitudinal patterns in shorebird size and shape.
Dr. Alexandra McQueen (Post-Doc at Deakin University) did most of the work on this manuscript. The Victorian Wader Study Group and the Australasian Water Studies Group were responsible for the 46 years worth of data collected that made this study possible. My thanks to Matt Symonds and Marcel Dekker for including me in this study, a result made possible from an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant.
McQueen A, Klaassen M, Tattersall GJ, Atkinson R, Jessop R, Hassell CJ, Christie M; Victorian Wader Study Group; Australasian Wader Studies Group, Symonds MRE. 2022. Thermal adaptation best explains Bergmann’s and Allen’s Rules across ecologically diverse shorebirds. Nat Commun13, 4727. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-32108-3
Our paper “Vocalization associated respiration patterns: thermography-based monitoring and detection of preparation for calling” was just published in the Journal of Experimental Biology! This was one of the most enjoyable research projects I have been part of lately, but also one of the more complex journeys for a research paper. Huge credit must go to Vlad Demartsev (Max Plank Institute of Animal Behaviour), lead author on the project! Congratulations, Vlad!
Here is the abstract of the study
Vocal emission requires coordination with the respiratory system. Monitoring the increase in laryngeal pressure, needed for vocal production, allows detection of transitions from quiet respiration to vocalization-supporting respiration. Characterization of these transitions could be used to identify preparation for vocal emission and to examine the probability of it manifesting into an actual vocal production event. Specifically, overlaying the subject’s respiration with conspecific calls can highlight events of call initiation and suppression, as a mean of signalling coordination and avoiding jamming. Here we present a thermal-imaging based methodology for synchronized respiration and vocalization monitoring of free ranging meerkats. The sensitivity of this methodology is sufficient for detecting transient changes in the subject’s respiration associated with the exertion of vocal production. The differences in respiration are apparent not only during the vocal output but also prior to it, marking the potential time frame of the respiratory preparation for calling. A correlation between conspecific calls with elongation of the focal subject’s respiration cycles could be related to fluctuations in attention levels or in the motivation to reply. This framework can be used for examining animals’ capability for enhanced respiration control during modulated and complex vocal sequences, detect “failed” vocalisation attempts and investigate the role of respiration cues in the regulation of vocal interactions.
Here is the supplementary video from the paper, demonstrating a thermal image video (taken with a FLIR T1030) of a basking and vocalisating meerkat. We also demonstrate the syncrhonisation procedure and show how the machine learning algorithm trained to identify the nostrils was used to obtain the coordinates from which we could go back to extract the median nostril temperature associated with inhalation and exhalation.
Technologically this was one of the most complicated studies I’ve worked on. It involved 3 weeks of some of most exciting field work in the Kalahari Desert (waiting for Meerkats to come out of their burrows in the morning), high resolution thermal imaging, high resolution audio recording, elaborate device synchronisation, ImageJ, R, machine learning, cigarette lighters, and more PERL code than I ever want to have to write again.
Long story short: we estimated the rhythmic pattern of inhalation and exhalation from the periodic changes in nostril temperature due to evaporative cooling (inhalation) and respiratory warming (exhalation). These breaths were tracked along with the morning “sunning calls” (i.e. vocalisations), and we were able to detect the subtle changes in their breathing patterns that emerge as a result of their calls.
Demartsev, V, Manser, MB, and Tattersall, GJ. 2022. Vocalization associated respiration patterns: thermography-based monitoring and detection of preparation for calling. Journal of Experimental Biology, In Press, https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.243474.
This work was done while VD was funded by Minerva Stiftung and Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung post-doctoral fellowships. Additional funding included Internationalization Initiative Start Up funding, University of Konstanz and Aharon and Ephraim Katzir Study Grant, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported GJT’s research and thermal imaging camera (RGPIN-05814). MBM was funded by the University of Zurich. This article has relied on records of individual identities and/or life histories maintained by the Kalahari Meerkat Project, which has been supported financially by the European Research Council (Grant No 742808 to Tim Clutton-Brock, University of Cambridge since 1 July 2018) and the University of Zurich, as well as logistically by the Mammal Research Institute of the University of Pretoria.
Congratulations to Dr. Simon Tapper for his publication in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, entitled: “Changes in body surface temperature play an under-appreciated role in the avian immune response”. Simon worked on this as part of his PhD with Dr. Gary Burness at Trent University. He very kindly included Josh Tabh and myself in this paper, although the bulk of the work was done by Simon. A main take-away from the study is that when zebrafinches mount a profound change in peripheral vasomotion when they are immune challenge with LPS (a substance that mimics bacterial infection).
Summary and Abstract of the Study
Fever and hypothermia are well characterized components of systemic inflammation. However, our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying such changes in body temperature is largely limited to rodent models and other mammalian species. In mammals, high dosages of an inflammatory agent (e.g., lipopolysaccharide, LPS) typically leads to hypothermia (decrease in body temperature below normothermic levels), which is largely driven by a reduction in thermogenesis, and not changes in peripheral vasomotion (i.e., changes in blood vessel tone). In birds, however, hypothermia occurs frequently, even at lower dosages, but the thermoeffector mechanisms associated with the response remain unknown. We immune-challenged zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) with LPS and monitored changes in subcutaneous temperature and energy balance (i.e., body mass, food intake), and assessed surface temperatures of, and heat loss across, the eye region, bill, and legs. We hypothesized that if birds employ similar thermoregulatory mechanisms to similarly-sized mammals, LPS-injected individuals would reduce subcutaneous body temperature and maintain constant surface temperatures when compared with saline-injected individuals. Instead, LPS-injected individuals showed a slight elevation in body temperature, and this response coincided with a reduction in peripheral heat loss, particularly across the legs, as opposed to changes in energy balance. However, we note that our interpretations should be taken with caution due to small sample sizes within each treatment. We suggest that peripheral vasomotion, allowing for heat retention, is an underappreciated component of the sickness-induced thermoregulatory response of small birds.
Tapper, S, Tabh, J, Tattersall, GJ, and Burness, GP. 2021. Changes in body surface temperature play an under-appreciated role in the avian immune response. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, doi: 10.1086/718410
I’m happy to report on a paper from Matt Pamenter’s lab (U Ottawa) that has just been published in Nature Communications. Matt and colleagues teamed up to examine how naked mole rats show a remarkable capacity to rapidly down-regulate UCP1 levels in their brown fat. It might come as a bit of a surprise to some to hear that naked mole-rats even have functional UCP1, since they are often described as “poikilothermic” mammals, not capable of producing heat. This is actually not entirely accurate, as can be seen in thermal images of naked mole-rats (Figure 1 below from Cheng et al 2021), they have a substantial band of heat within their shoulder region, where the brown fat lies.
Naked mole-rats are among the most hypoxia-tolerant mammals. During hypoxia, their body temperature (Tb) decreases via unknown mechanisms to conserve energy. In small mammals, non-shivering thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT) is critical to Tb regulation; therefore, we hypothesized that hypoxia decreases naked mole-rat BAT thermogenesis. To test this, we measure changes in Tb during normoxia and hypoxia (7% O2; 1–3 h). We report that interscapular thermogenesis is high in normoxia but ceases during hypoxia, and Tb decreases. Furthermore, in BAT from animals treated in hypoxia, UCP1 and mitochondrial complexes I-V protein expression rapidly decrease, while mitochondria undergo fission, and apoptosis and mitophagy are inhibited. Finally, UCP1 expression decreases in hypoxia in three other social African mole-rat species, but not a solitary species. These findings suggest that the ability to rapidly down-regulate thermogenesis to conserve oxygen in hypoxia may have evolved preferentially in social species.
This work was a team effort, lead by Dr. Matt Pamenter’s lab at U Ottawa and Dr. Mary-Ellen Harper (U Ottawa), and included colleagues from the University of Pretoria, and University of Shaqra, Saudi Arabia, and myself (Brock University).
Cheng, H, Rebaa, R, Malholtra, N, Lacost, B, El Hankouri, Z, Kirby, A, Bennett, NC, van Jaarsveld, B, Hart, DW, Tattersall, GJ, Harper, M-E, and Pamenter, ME. 2021. Naked mole-rat brown fat thermogenesis is diminished during hypoxia through a rapid decrease in UCP1. Nature Communications, 12: 6801.https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-27170-2
I’m happy to report that our paper entitled “Staying warm is not the norm: Behavioural differences in thermoregulation in two snake species” is published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology at the following link:
Congratulations to the team in my lab for pulling this paper together.
In this study, we focus on laboratory measurements of behaviours (in two species of snakes) related to temperature regulation to highlight methodological approaches to studying thermoregulation in ectotherms.
Over the past few years, we have read a lot of papers that report on thermoregulation in ectotherms, but we have felt that critical information on whether the animals are purposely thermoregulating is missing. How do you know they are thermoregulating? Is it sufficient to simply examine their position within the thermal gradient? Perhaps the direction they orient is important to establishing their motivations? How do you know an ectotherm is thermoregulating rather than simply moving around at random? Maybe accounting for activity and exploration effects in these studies can help make a difference? These topics have been covered in a number of other papers from our laboratory (Wang et al 2019; Black and Tattersall, 2017; Black et al, 2019), but we test them here using two species of snakes with contrasting life histories, where we would expect different thermoregulatory preferences given the different microhabitats preferred in nature.
These are some of the questions we focus on in this study of the Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) and the semi-fossorial Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata). While we do report that the semi-fossorial snakes appear to prefer cooler temperatures, please read the paper for some of the more subtle differences between these species.
Anyhow, we hope to convince fellow researchers to report on these sort of behaviours since they may likely be helpful in bolstering the case that the animal is motivated to select temperatures.
Giacometti, D., Yagi, KT, Abney, CR, Jung, MP, and Tattersall, GJ. 2021. Staying warm is not always the norm: Behavioural differences in thermoregulation of two snake species. Canadian Journal of Zoology, Accepted, Aug 25 2021.http://doi.org/10.1139/cjz-2021-0135
Many thanks to the co-authors in this study. This research was originally part of Curtis Abney’s MSc thesis, supplemented with Matthew Jung’s Honours thesis (with input and guidance from Dr. Katherine Yagi), and brought together by the fine analytical and writing skills of Danilo Giacometti.
Black, IRG, Berman, JM, Cadena, V, and Tattersall, GJ. 2019. Behavioral thermoregulation in lizards: Strategies for achieving preferred temperature. In: Behavior of Lizards: Evolutionary and Mechanistic Perspectives, Eds. Vincent Bels and Anthony Russell, CRC Press, 410 pp.
Wang, SYS, Tattersall, GJ, and Koprivnikar, J. 2019. Trematode parasite infection affects temperature selection in aquatic host snails.Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 92(1):71-79. https://doi.org/10.1086/701236