Ecophysiology

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Science  16 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6305, pp. 1246
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6305.1246-a

The smell of fire rouses Eastern pygmy possums from torpor.

PHOTO: DAVE WATTS/VISUALS UNLIMITED

Torpor occurs when an endothermic animal's core body temperature is reduced below a critical threshold. Similar to hibernation, torpid animals' physiological and neural systems have reduced activity in this energy-saving state. Generally, it is thought that animals in this condition have little ability to respond to threats. Nowack et al. show, however, that Eastern pygmy possums were roused from torpor by the smell of fire, in some cases completely emerging and initiating directed climbing. Though this movement occurred well below suboptimal body temperature, animals were not able to move at the coldest temperatures. These results show that torpid animals may be able to respond to threats, especially gradual ones, such as fire, but that ambient temperature is a key driver of their ability to do so.

Sci. Nat. 10.1007/s00114-016-1396-6 (2016).

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