Individual flexibility in energy saving: body size and condition constrain torpor use


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  1. Phenotypic flexibility is a major mechanism in compensating climate-driven changes in resource availability. Heterotherms can use daily torpor to overcome resource shortages and adverse environmental conditions. The expression of this adaptive energy-saving strategy varies among individuals, but the factors constraining individual flexibility remain largely unknown.
  2. As energy availability depends on individual stores and/or on the ability to acquire food, the propensity and flexibility in torpor use are expected to be constrained by body condition and/or size, respectively. The aim of this study was to test whether the dependency of torpor depth on air temperature was constrained by body condition and/or body size in a small heterothermic primate, the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). During the onset of the dry season, we monitored air temperature as well as skin temperatures of 14 free-ranging individuals (12 females, two males) of known body mass and size.
  3. Unexpectedly, torpor depth depended as much on air temperature as on body condition and size. Fatter, or larger, mouse lemurs underwent deeper torpor than smaller, or leaner, ones. Individual reaction norms of torpor depth to air temperature also revealed that the propensity to undergo deep torpor and the flexibility in torpor depth were enhanced by large body size and high body condition, whereas small, lean individuals remained normothermic.
  4. Our study illustrates that alternative physiological strategies to overcome temperature constraints co-occur in a population, with body size and condition being key determinants of the energy conservation strategy that an individual can launch.