Seasonal reversible size changes in the braincase and mass of common shrews are flexibly modified by environmental conditions

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2019
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Hertel, Moritz
Muturi, Marion
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The growth of the vertebrate skull and brain is usually unidirectional and more or less stops when animals are adult. Red-toothed shrews break this rule. They seasonally shrink and regrow brain and skull size by 20% or more, presumably to save energy when conditions are harsh. The size change is anticipatory of environmental change and occurs in all individuals, but it is unknown whether its extent can be modulated by environmental conditions. We kept shrews under different conditions, monitored seasonal changes in skull size with series of X-rays, and compared them with free ranging animals. We found extensive differences in the pattern of skull size change between experimental groups. Skull size of shrews kept at constant temperature showed a steady decline, while the skull size changes of free ranging shrews and captive individuals exposed to natural temperature regimes were identical. In contrast, body mass never reached the spring values of free ranging shrews in either captive regime. The extent of this adaptive seasonal pattern can thus be flexibly adapted to current environmental conditions. Combining reversible size changes with such strong phenotypic plasticity may allow these small, non-hibernating predators with high metabolic rates to continue being successful in today's changing environments.

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ISO 690LAZARO, Javier, Moritz HERTEL, Marion MUTURI, Dina K. N. DECHMANN, 2019. Seasonal reversible size changes in the braincase and mass of common shrews are flexibly modified by environmental conditions. In: Scientific Reports. 2019, 9(1), 2489. eISSN 2045-2322. Available under: doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-38884-1
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@article{Lazaro2019-02-21Seaso-45780,
  year={2019},
  doi={10.1038/s41598-019-38884-1},
  title={Seasonal reversible size changes in the braincase and mass of common shrews are flexibly modified by environmental conditions},
  number={1},
  volume={9},
  journal={Scientific Reports},
  author={Lazaro, Javier and Hertel, Moritz and Muturi, Marion and Dechmann, Dina K. N.},
  note={Article Number: 2489}
}
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