A selection gradient was recently suggested as one possible cause for a clinal distribution of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes along an altitudinal transect in the greater white-toothed shrew, Crocidura russula (Ehinger et al. 2002). One mtDNA haplotype (H1) rare in lowland, became widespread when approaching the altitudinal margin of the distribution. As H1 differs from the main lowland haplotype by several nonsynonymous mutations (including on ATP6), and as mitochondria play a crucial role in metabolism and thermogenesis, distribution patterns might stem from differences in the thermogenic capacity of different mtDNA haplotypes.
In order to test this hypothesis, we measured the nonshivering thermogenesis (NST) associated with different mtDNA haplotypes. Sixty-two shrews, half of which had the H1 haplotype, were acclimated in November at semioutdoor conditions and measured for NST throughout winter. Our results showed the crucial role of NST for winter survival in C. russula. The individuals that survived winter displayed a higher significant increase in NST during acclimation, associated with a significant gain in body mass, presumably from brown fat accumulation. The NST capacity (ratio of NST to basal metabolic rate) was exceptionally high for such a small species. NST was significantly affected by a gender × haplotype interaction after winter-acclimation: females bearing the H1 haplotype displayed a better thermogenesis at the onset of the breeding season, while the reverse was true for males. Altogether, our results suggest a sexually antagonistic cyto-nuclear selection on thermogenesis.