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Winter diets? The secret is to chill the extremities
Date:12/16/2011

Although the temperate climates of central Europe provide plentiful food in summer, finding enough to eat is much more problematic in winter. Many small mammals avoid the problem by hibernating but this survival strategy is generally not practised by larger animals. With the exception of some bears, large mammals remain fully awake throughout the year, yet they too must reduce their metabolism to cope with the comparative scarcity of food. Red deer, for example, are known to lower their heart rate and to allow their extremities to cool substantially during winter. These changes have been interpreted as a mechanism for conserving energy but could simply reflect the fact that the animals cannot find enough food to eat, as the act of digestion is known to have a direct influence on a ruminant's metabolism.

It is clear that red deer must minimise their energy requirements to be able to survive on little but their own body fat over the long winter season. To understand how they do so, Christopher Turbill and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna inserted special transmitters into the reticulum (the foremost part of the stomach) of 15 female red deer and monitored the animals' heart rate and stomach temperature for a period of 18 months, including two winters. The deer lived under near-natural conditions but their food intake was tightly controlled, with the amount and the protein richness determined by the scientists. The air temperature was also recorded and statistical modeling was used to untangle the effects of the various different factors including swallowing snow, which naturally led to a rapid and dramatic decrease in stomach temperature on the animals' metabolism.

The slow season

The most striking result was that the deer lowered their heart rates in winter regardless of how much food they ate. A heart rate of 65-70 beats per minute in May declined gradually to about 40 beats per minute throu
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Contact: Prof Walter Arnold
walter.arnold@vetmeduni.ac.at
43-148-909-15100
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna
Source:Eurekalert

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