Snoozing through the storm: torpor use during a natural disaster

Sci Rep. 2015 Jun 15;5:11243. doi: 10.1038/srep11243.

Abstract

Although storms provide an extreme environmental challenge to organisms and are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, there are no quantitative observations on the behaviour and physiology of animals during natural disasters. We provide the first data on activity and thermal biology of a free-ranging, arboreal mammal during a storm with heavy rain and category 1 cyclone wind speeds. We studied a population of sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps), a species vulnerable to bad weather due to their small body size and mode of locomotion, in a subtropical habitat during spring when storms are common. Although torpor is generally rare in this species, sugar gliders remained inactive or reduced foraging times during the storm and further minimized energy demands by entering deep torpor. All animals survived the storm and reverted to normal foraging activity during the following night(s). It thus appears that heterothermic mammals have a crucial adaptive advantage over homeothermic species as they can outlast challenging weather events, such as storms and floods, by reducing metabolism and thus energetic needs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Body Size
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cyclonic Storms*
  • Disasters
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Marsupialia / physiology*
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Torpor / physiology*