Thermoregulation and metabolism in the smallest African gerbil, Gerbillus pusillus



The effect of temperature on thermoregulation, metabolism, evaporative water loss and thermal conductance was studied in Gerbillus pusillus. Its resting body temperature (TB) was 34·6°C, approximately 5°C higher than the mean ambient temperature (TA) encountered in its burrow. As TA increased above 34°C, its ability to lose heat to the environment decreased. It overcame this problem by tolerating increases in TB to a non-lethal maximum of 41°C, whilst also eliminating increasing quantities of obligate heat by pulmocutaneous evaporation and conduction.

Metabolic rate was 41% lower than that predicted from Kleiber's (1975) allometric equation. This confers a considerable saving in energy in an environment where food is often scarce, whilst simultaneously reducing heat production and the degree of gaseous exchange in the already oxygen-poor and carbon dioxide-rich environment encountered in the plugged burrows of its natural milieu.

Gerbillus pusillus, therefore, does not maintain strict homeothermy and utilizes a labile TB and reduced metabolic rate as an adaptive mechanism for survival in the arid zones of tropical Africa.