Seasonal and interindividual variation in field water metabolism of female meadow voles Microtus pennsylvanicus

Physiol Biochem Zool. Sep-Oct 1999;72(5):545-54. doi: 10.1086/316694.


We analyzed variations in water flux rates on a large sample of meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) to quantify the effect of season on water metabolism of individuals and to examine patterns of intra- and interindividual variability. Voles were nonreproductive females maintained in outdoor enclosures where they fed on natural vegetation. They were injected one to three times with doubly labeled water, which resulted in one to six measures of daily water flux rate per individual. Summer water flux rates of voles were 258% of the predicted values for herbivorous eutherian mammals of similar size. To date, very few studies have focused on mammals with such high water flux rates. Body water volume of individuals was higher in summer than in winter (75.6% vs. 72.5%), and water flux rate of animals was 12.5% higher in the winter season (0.99 vs. 0.88 mL H2O g-1 d-1). Between-season differences in water fluxes were proportional to differences in energy expenditures, hence the water economy index remained constant across seasons (0.30 mL H2O kJ-1). Intraindividual variability of water flux rate was high compared to interindividual variability (repeatability, r<0.30), which will make it difficult to study natural selection of water metabolism in a microevolutionary framework, at least in meadow voles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae / physiology*
  • Body Composition
  • Deuterium Oxide
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Male
  • Seasons
  • Temperature
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Deuterium Oxide