The metabolic response of the Bradypus sloth to temperature

Rebecca Naomi Cliffe, David Scantlebury, Sarah Jane Kennedy, Judy Avey-Arroyo, Daniel Mindich, Rory Wilson

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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Poikilotherms and homeotherms have different, well-defined metabolic responses to ambient temperature (Ta), but both groups have high power costs at high temperatures. Sloths (Bradypus) are critically limited by rates of energy acquisition and it has previously been suggested that their unusual departure from homeothermy mitigates the associated costs. No studies, however, have examined how sloth body temperature and metabolic rate vary with Ta. Here we measured the oxygen consumption (VO2) of eight brown-throated sloths (B. variegatus) at variable Ta’s and found that VO2 indeed varied in an unusual manner with what appeared to be a reversal of the standard homeotherm pattern. Sloth VO2 increased with Ta, peaking in a metabolic plateau (nominal ‘thermally-active zone’ (TAZ)) before decreasing again at higher Ta values. We suggest that this pattern enables sloths to minimise energy expenditure over a wide range of conditions, which is likely to be crucial for survival in an animal that operates under severe energetic constraints. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of a mammal provisionally invoking metabolic depression in response to increasing Ta’s, without entering into a state of torpor, aestivation or hibernation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5600
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2018


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