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

ghout the winter, even when the deer were supplied with plenty of protein-rich food. Heart rate is a good indicator of metabolic rate, so as Turbill says, "The decrease in metabolism occurred exactly when food is normally scarce although our animals always had enough to eat and this shows that the deer are somehow 'programmed' to conserve reserves during winter." The enormous rise in heart rate in spring, at the start of the breeding season, was not associated with any change in food availability so also forms part of the animals' internal programming. As expected, when the deer were offered less food, their heart rates dropped even further. Surprisingly, however, this effect could also be observed in summer and was not solely caused by the reduced amount of digestion, showing that red deer react both to the winter season and to food shortages by actively lowering their metabolism.

Turbill, Arnold and coworkers found that the lowered heart rate was associated with a reduction in stomach (core body) temperature, suggesting that the deer adjust energy expenditure by regulating their internal heat production. However, relatively small changes in stomach temperature had larger than expected effects on metabolic rate, implying that the animals have an additional mechanism for saving energy. The key to explaining the results came from previous studies in Arnold's group, which had shown that red deer can greatly lower the temperature of their legs and other extremities, especially during cold winter nights. It thus seems likely that a small reduction in stomach temperature indicates a much greater reduction in the temperature of the deer's entire body, which could explain the substantial reduction in heart rate and metabolism. "Perhaps larger animals are able to make use of their size to enable temperature gradients," Arnold proposes. "This would enable them to reduce their metabolism dramatically without requiring a big decrease in core body temperature
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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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