Torpor is not the only option: seasonal variations of the thermoneutral zone in a small primate.J Comp Physiol B. 2014 Aug; 184(6):789-97.JC
The reddish-gray mouse lemur (Microcebus griseorufus) is one of only a few small mammals inhabiting the spiny forest of southwestern Madagascar. In this study we investigated the physiological adjustments which allow these small primates to persist under the challenging climatic conditions of their habitat. To this end we measured energy expenditure (metabolic rate) and body temperature of 24 naturally acclimatized mouse lemurs, kept in outdoor enclosures, during different seasons (summer, winter, and the transition period between the two seasons). Mouse lemurs displayed two main physiological strategies to compensate seasonal and diurnal fluctuations of ambient temperature. On the one hand, individuals entered hypometabolism with decreasing ambient temperature (T a) during the transition period and winter, enabling them to save up to 21 % energy per day (92 % per hour) compared with the normal resting metabolic rate at comparable T a. On the other hand, euthermic mouse lemurs also showed physiological adjustments to seasonality when resting: the lower critical temperature of the thermoneutral zone decreased from summer to winter by 7.5 °C, which allowed mouse lemurs to keep energy demands constant despite colder T as during winter. In addition, the basal metabolic rate was substantially lowered prior to the winter period, which facilitated accumulation of fat reserves. The combination of physiological modifications during euthermia in addition to hypometabolism, which can be individually adjusted according to external parameters and respective body condition, is important as it allows M. griseorufus to cope with the environmental variability of an energetically challenging habitat.