Papers in the Biological Sciences


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J Physiol 0.0 (2023) pp 1–10.


Open access.


A key question in biology concerns the extent to which distributional range limits of species are determined by intrinsic limits of physiological tolerance. Here, we use common-garden data for wild rodents to assess whether species with higher elevational range limits typically have higher thermogenic capacities in comparison to closely related lowland species. Among South American leaf-eared mice (genus Phyllotis), mean thermogenic performance is higher in species with higher elevational range limits, but there is little among-species variation in the magnitude of plasticity in this trait. In the North American rodent genus Peromyscus, highland deermice (Peromyscus maniculatus) have greater thermogenic maximal oxygen uptake (˙VO2max) than lowland white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) at a level of hypoxia that matches the upper elevational range limit of the former species. In highland deer mice, the enhanced thermogenic ˙VO2max in hypoxia is attributable to a combination of evolved and plastic changes in physiological pathways that govern the transport and utilization of O2 and metabolic substrates. Experiments with Peromyscus mice also demonstrate that exposure to hypoxia during different stages of development elicits plastic changes in cardiorespiratory traits that improve thermogenic ˙VO2max via distinct physiological mechanisms. Evolved differences in thermogenic capacity provide clues about why some species are able to persist in higher-elevation habitats that lie slightly beyond the tolerable limits of other species. Such differences in environmental tolerance also suggest why some species might be more vulnerable to climate change than others.

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