A message from nature to muskrats: 'Dont chill out'

San Diego, CA -- Muskrats are mainly vegetarians but will eat animals as well. These small animals consume about one-third of their weight every day. Their digestive system is designed for green vegetation. In the summer they eat the roots of aquatic plants. In the winter, they swim under the surface ice to get to the plants. To the distress of farmers, muskrats also eat agricultural crops.

Since muskrats forage underwater they should exhibit traits that maximize their breath-hold capacity. It is generally acknowledged that an animals dive time is limited by finite on-board oxygen supply and that its aerobic dive limit (ADL) defines the maximum dive duration that can be supported by an oxygen-based metabolism (accessible body oxygen stores divided by the rate at which these stores are depleted underwater). In order to maximize time spent underwater, animals must acquire strategies that enhance their ADL, their capacity for recovery from diving, or their ability to continue diving beyond the ADL (i.e. their capacity for anaerobic metabolism).

One strategy that many assume the muskrat adopts for increased diving time is related to a well-established finding that a drop in temperature reduces rates of cellular reactions (Q10 effect) and this phenomenon may account for the hypometabolic state of cooled tissues. Essentially, this effect depresses metabolism of cooled body tissues, thereby conserving energy. Cooling the body to increase diving time is known as adaptive hypothermia hypothesis.

A depression in diving metabolic rate (DMR) could partially explain the breath-hold capacity of some divers. Calculated DMR based on known body oxygen stores as well as diving patterns and behaviour, has been predicted to be equivalent to, or lower than resting metabolic rates in several penguin species (gentoo, king, emperor), as well as southern elephant seals. Since oxygen affinity of mammalian hemoglobin is typically increased in cold, a reduced sen

Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

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