Morphological and physiological responses to altitude in deer mice Peromyscus maniculatus

Physiol Biochem Zool. Sep-Oct 1999;72(5):613-22. doi: 10.1086/316697.


Individuals within a species, living across a wide range of habitats, often display a great deal of phenotypic plasticity for organ mass and function. We investigated the extent to which changes in organ mass are variable, corresponding to environmental demand, across an altitudinal gradient. Are there changes in the mass of oxygen delivery organs (heart and lungs) and other central processing organs (gut, liver, kidney) associated with an increased sustainable metabolic rate that results from decreased ambient temperatures and decreased oxygen availability along an altitudinal gradient? We measured food intake, resting metabolic rate (RMR), and organ mass in captive deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus bairdii) at three sites from 1,200 to 3,800 m above sea level to determine whether energy demand was correlated with organ mass. We found that food intake, gut mass, and cardiopulmonary organ mass increased in mice living at high altitudes. RMR was not correlated with organ mass differences along the altitudinal gradient. While the conditions in this study were by no means extreme, these results show that mice living at high altitudes have higher levels of energy demand and possess larger cardiopulmonary and digestive organs than mice living at lower altitudes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Altitude*
  • Animals
  • Digestive System / anatomy & histology
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Heart / anatomy & histology
  • Lung / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Metabolism / physiology
  • Peromyscus / anatomy & histology
  • Peromyscus / physiology*