Congratulations in order

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.

I do have such great students!

Toucans make do without bill heat transfer, but with a cost.

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. 

Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco)

For a great summary of the article by Kathryn Knight, please see the Inside JEB article “Toucans’ ostentatious beaks do not expand their thermoneutral zone“.


Access the paper from this Link (50 free clicks) or at the JEB website.


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.

Star-nosed moles have chilly stars

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.

Gallery Images

Note: WordPress may have mangled the videos. Looking into fixing….

Bottom view of the star-nosed mole searching the ground with its star. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Bottom view of a star-nosed mole foraging on an earth worm. One of the world’s fastest eaters!
A rare video / timelapse of a star-nosed mole standing still. In this case it is grooming. This is the only time we observed the star showing any evident “body heat” warming up the star itself. Watch up to the end to see the brief vasodilation to the star before the mole walks off scene. Usually the star remains at or slightly below ambient temperature.


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.


Tattersall, GJ and Campbell, KL. 2023. Thermoconforming rays of the star-nosed mole. J Exp Biol 2023; jeb.245127.

Link to the paper (50 free clicks)


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).

Data Repository

The data from the paper are shared in the following open repository:

Hummingbirds rarely use torpor when incubating eggs

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.

Thermal images of a normothermic hummingbird (A) and one in torpor (B). Right hand images are a 3D-rendering of the surface temperatures.
Digital and thermal images of eggs and hatchling hummingbirds.
Thermal video of a Ruby-throated hummingbird feeding from a feeding station. Video captured at Brock University in 2012, and has no association with the study.


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.


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 crowd-source campaign and FLIR Systems for their support.

Ultraviolet Sensing Behaviour in Bearded Dragons

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.

Figures and citation are provided below:

Wildtype Bearded Dragon (juvenile)
Leatherback phenotype of bearded dragon (juvenile)
Silkback phenotype of bearded dragon (juvenile)
Ultraviolet light test chamber involve 3 separate ‘basking’ sites partitioned within a circular chamber. Bearded dragons were free to move between the partitions due to gaps underneath the vertical baffles. The floor was kept at the preferred temperature (35°C) within the red zone, and allow to fall to room temperature (22-24°C) outside of that zone. This created allowed us to track the UV preferences while lizards were selecting warm or cool temperatures.

For those wishing to see a pdf of our article, for the next 50 days, free access is available at the following link:

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.

Thermal adaptations best explain biogeographic rules in Australian shorebirds

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.

Heat map of Australia, including the sample sites where morphological data from >30 species of shorebirds were used.

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 Commun 13, 4727.

Eulogy for Clifford Tattersall

Everyone has an origin story. Every child has a parent, destined at some time to be separated from them. It grieves me to say that my father passed away on 28th February, 2022 and the only way I can think to honour his memory is to share the Eulogy I wrote to shed some light on my origins and to share his family’s grief. Also, for those unable to attend his funeral service today (March 5th, 2022), I hope these words remind you of him and might bring a smile to your face.

Our father was an irascible but lovable character.  Often the centre of the conversation, he was quite at ease as the agitator in any discourse, approaching life with an unparalleled inquisitive zeal. At any moment he might have appeared to waver from sarcastic to serious, and to summarise his traits would require me to acknowledge he was both funny and critical, political and knowledgeable, open and secretive, stubborn and generous, kind and strict, but mostly, dedicated and selfless, to the end. 

While tempted to speak about how much he meant to his family and how he shaped us and how we will miss him, I would better honour him by describing his life and how his life had meaning to others.

Clifford immigrated to Canada as a child, twice, as he liked to put it. The first time (in 1954), when he was 7, he moved here with his sister Valerie and parents, Doris and Harold Tattersall, from Lancashire, England.  His father had taken up a farm manager’s job, lured by the promises of a better life in Canada, presumably from promotional material circulating in the newspapers and town halls of northern England. Despite the many stories he told us of his early life moving from different towns in Southern and Eastern Ontario, we never tired to hear them. They were the standard farm life stories of early morning milking, living on scraps of food, and the trials and tribulations of rural life….Life was hard, and they were poor. Indeed when asked of his lack of middle name, his favourite response was that middle names were too expensive when he was born, in post-war, Northern England.

For reasons best lost to history, he says he was sent back to England to live with his grandmother at the age of 12, ostensibly to prepare for his family’s return to England (had they tired of the frontier life?) ….except, instead, his own parents chose to simply remain in Canada!  So, a year later, like a child out of an O’Henry story, he was returned to Canada and therein spent the rest of his life.

Some time after his return, he and family settled in St. Catharines, and eventually my dad met my mother, Brenda Bernard, as they both lived in Port Dalhousie.  His parents owned the local variety store, Lakeview Variety, better known as “Mr. and Mrs.’ T’s” that pre-dated the rise of the Avondale stores, and thus most people in the neighbourhood knew one another with the store as the central hub. Indeed, that is where my parents met!  Clifford and Brenda married in 1969 on what I imagine was a beautiful spring day in April, although sadly I am told, it was cold and wet!

Following a few years working in sales for local industry, my father embarked on a federal government career initially as a flight service specialist at Toronto Airport and later working as a radio operator for Transport Canada and finally the Canadian Coastguard.  This career brought us, as a family, to all corners of Ontario: Sarnia in the southwest, Earlton in the North, and Wiarton in the middle.  During those years in Wiarton, my dad wanted to have a hobby farm, allowing us all to re-live his childhood (his words!).  Small ideas at first.  A few chickens for eggs, a cow for milk, a horse for riding.  It wasn’t long before this hobby farm grew to a second full time job, with 30 cattle, 3 horses, 30 chickens, 5 pheasants, and yearly wood chopping, hay baling, grain seeding, rock picking, and all the trials and tribulations of farm life.  The concept of doing things in moderation was alien to my father.

In the last 10 years of his career, after selling the farm and moving back to Niagara, dad continued his career meanderings on his own.  Downtown Toronto for 2 years, Sydney, Nova Scotia for 2 years at the Coast Guard College, Sault Ste. Marie as station manager, back to Sarnia as manager and technical trainer, and eventually all the way to Inuvik in the North West Territories as manager of the marine radio station for his final few years until retirement.  While we couldn’t join dad on all these adventures, we felt that we lived them with him over the years through his regular conversations about the people he worked with.  My father was certainly known for work ethic and his gift of the gab.  Rarely was he not busy getting something done around or on the phone or facetime catching up with someone.

Following his retirement in 2005, he returned to Southern Ontario from all his northern journeys and wanted to take up a hobby.  For a time, he took this literally, building a train set which allowed him to play toy trains with his grandson.  But as always with my dad, there was a connection to yesteryear automobiles, and his train set eventually grew to an antique model car hobby, presumably as he began to remember the cars of his youth.  This was not unusual for us.  Growing up with my dad invariably involved him spotting a vintage car on the road that he would immediately identify down to year, make, and model within seconds, usually then describing how the taillights differed between the 1957 model vs. the 1958 model and where the vehicle was manufactured.  So I suppose it was fate that in his retirement, he took it upon himself to become a vintage car owner, initially with the purchase of a 1937 Oldsmobile that he gradually upgraded over the years.  But at his heart, he was always a Studebaker man, so when the chance arose for him to procure one, he drove across the country and borders to acquire his first Studebaker, a beautiful 1955 aqua blue car.  He eventually expanded his fleet of Studebakers to 3, including a 1964 and a 1966.  Most of his summer months were spent tinkering, fixing, polishing, and generally moving his fleet of Studebakers from winter storage to the various summer garages he managed to “borrow” from friends and family.  I know that his retirement involved a network of new friends and acquaintances met at swap meets, car shows, and drivers clubs that have supported him during these last few years. 

From my own perspective, I always felt a little conflicted that I lacked his vehicular knowledge and innate automotive enthusiasm, despite being taught by my dad how to ride a bike on an airport runway!  It may have seemed I could not fully enter into this part of his life, but he included me in it nonetheless by asking me to provide him with space in my garage for one of his vintage cars.  This gave him reason to share his interests with me over the years, and I remember our yearly road trips to Marshville fondly.

We shared other things with our father, that stemmed from our own childhood that he had set in stone for us.  A consequence of him raising us on a farm in a rural homestead, we all shared a love of the outdoors, and of the joy of a simple walk in the woods.  Indeed, since 2011 we have taken almost daily walks in the St. John’s Conservation area.  These early morning forays, often before sunrise, were filled with political discussions (dad’s favourite) or academic rants (my favourite).  I think we both listened, in our own ways, although sometimes we only responded to each other days later, after careful contemplation or examination, knowing that we would always have each on another day to continue the conversation.  With dad gone, I will miss these cherished ‘examinations’ into our opinions and biases the most. 

Socrates claimed that “An unexamined life is not worth living”, and I think my father, although not a philosopher, may have lived by this creed, but with his own unique take.  For a non-lawyerly person, my father was very inquisitive – and often to some – inquisitional, sometimes taking a polarising view on topics.  At times he seemed to passionately argue about something, and I remember one day I said to dad: “You aren’t really arguing, you just like to question every single topic”, and he looked back at me, almost with delight as if I finally did begin to understand him.   Perhaps, in his own way, he understood the claims to examine life as being instructions to examine the lives of others, given how intensely or dogmatically my father would think and pursue the issues of the day.  Maybe he wondered whether his own children and family were too close to appreciate him, but I know we did, and I hope he knows that we would not have had him any other way.  

While my father certainly had his way of examining truths, he was on a journey that examined the strengths and limits of any human being.  On top of all the love, encouragement, memories, and life lessons, we will forever cherish the memory of our father’s zest for inquiry.  It is what made us who we are.

Thermal imaging of respiratory patterns during vocalisation

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,


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.

Peripheral vasomotion and systemic inflammation

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

Naked mole-rats rapidly decrease UCP1 in hypoxia

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.

Figure 1. Thermogenesis ceases in acute hypoxia and body temperature drops to ambient levels.

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).

Here is a link to the paper.


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.