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Total body water (TBW) and water turnover rate (WTR) were measured in 24 subterranean mole rats comprising four populations, each belonging to a different chromosomal species of the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies in Israel. The four species range in different climates: humid-cool (2n = 52); semiarid-cool (2n = 54); humid-warm (2n = 58) and arid-warm (2n = 60). TBW, as a percentage of body weight, measured by tritiated water (HTO), was 72.4%±4–7 in 2n = 52, significantly (P< 005) higher than the similar estimates 61.7%± 7.2, and 59.4%± 5–3, for 2n = 60 and 58, respectively. A comparison of HTO space, as a percentage of TBW, closely approximated TBW, ranging from 97% to 108%. WTR was high, 218.1 and 230.9 ml/kg0-75/day in the mesic populations of 2n = 58 and 52, respectively. By contrast, WTR estimates were significantly lower, (P < 0.001), 150.2 and 148.9 ml/kg0-75/day in the xeric populations of 2n = 54 and 60, respectively. The biological half-life time, T1/2, was similar and faster, 32.7 and 27.9 hours in the mesic populations of 2n = 52 and 58, as compared with slower, 47.9 and 40.8 hours in the xeric populations of 2n = 54 and 60, respectively. Urine osmolarity in the most xeric northern Negev steppic population of 2n = 60 (737 ± 45 mmol/kg) was significantly (P < 0.001) higher than in the other species.

We conclude that adaptive radiation in the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies involves speciation in semiarid (2n = 54) and arid (2n = 60) climates by physiological adaptations of kidney water conservation, along with multiple morphological, physiological and behavioural syndromes of climatic adaptations to increasing aridity (Nevo, 1986).