Stable carbon isotopes in breath reveal fast metabolic incorporation rates and seasonally variable but rapid fat turnover in the common shrew (Sorex araneus)

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Small non-migratory mammals with Northern distribution ranges apply a variety of behavioural and physiological wintering strategies. A rare energy-saving strategy is Dehnel's phenomenon, involving a reduction and later regrowth of the body size, several organs and parts of the skeleton in red-toothed shrews (Soricidae). The size extremes coincide with major life stages. However, the physiological consequences for the shrew's metabolism remain poorly understood. In keeping with the energetic limitations that may induce the size changes, we hypothesised that metabolic incorporation rates should remain the same across the shrews' lifetimes. In contrast, fat turnover rates should be faster in smaller subadults than in large juveniles and regrown adults, as the metabolic activity of fat tissue increases in winter individuals (subadults). Measuring the changes in the ratio of exhaled stable carbon isotopes, we found that the baseline diet of shrews changed across the season. A diet switch experiment showed that incorporation rates were consistently rapid (t50=38.2±21.1-69.3±53.5 min) and did not change between seasons. As predicted, fat turnover rates were faster in size-reduced subadults (t50=2.1±1.3 h) compared with larger juveniles (t50=5.5±1.7 h) and regrown adults (t50=5.0±4.4 h). In all three age/size classes, all body fat was turned over after 9-24 h. These results show that high levels of nutrient uptake are independent of body size, whereas fat turnover rates are negatively correlated with body size. Thus, the shrews might be under higher pressure to save energy in winter and this may have supported the evolution of Dehnel's phenomenon.

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ISO 690KEICHER, Lara, Michael Teague O'MARA, Christian C. VOIGT, Dina K. N. DECHMANN, 2017. Stable carbon isotopes in breath reveal fast metabolic incorporation rates and seasonally variable but rapid fat turnover in the common shrew (Sorex araneus). In: The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2017, 220(15), pp. 2834-2841. ISSN 0022-0949. eISSN 1477-9145. Available under: doi: 10.1242/jeb.159947
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@article{Keicher2017-08-02Stabl-39796,
  year={2017},
  doi={10.1242/jeb.159947},
  title={Stable carbon isotopes in breath reveal fast metabolic incorporation rates and seasonally variable but rapid fat turnover in the common shrew (Sorex araneus)},
  number={15},
  volume={220},
  issn={0022-0949},
  journal={The Journal of Experimental Biology},
  pages={2834--2841},
  author={Keicher, Lara and O'Mara, Michael Teague and Voigt, Christian C. and Dechmann, Dina K. N.}
}
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