Physiological adaptations of small mammals to desert ecosystems.

Hagit Schwimmer, Abraham Haim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Adaptations of animals to the xeric environment have been studied in various taxonomic groups and across several deserts. Despite the impressive data that have been accumulated, the focus in most of these studies is mainly on the significance of one variable at a time. Here, we attempt to integrate between responses of several physiological systems, challenged by increasing diet and water salinity and extreme temperatures, acquired in different studies of thermo and osmo-regulatory adaptations, of small rodents, to the xeric environment. Studies have shown differential thermoregulatory responses to increased dietary salinity, which were attributed to habitat and habits of the relevant species. In the thermoregulatory studies, a potential adaptive significance of low metabolic rate was demonstrated. From an evolutionary point of view, the most important adaptation is in the timing of reproduction, as it enables the transfer of genetic properties to the next generation in an unpredictable ecosystem, where reproduction might not occur every year. Results in this aspect show that increased dietary salinity, through an increase in vasopressin plasma levels, plays an important role as a regulator of the reproductive system. We assume that the amount of food existing in the habitat and the amount of reserves in the animal in the form of white adipose tissue are important for reproduction. Photoperiod affects all studied physiological responses, emphasizing the importance of pre-acclimation to seasonal characteristics. We summarize the existing data and suggest neuro-endocrine pathways, which have a central role in these adaptations by affecting thermoregulation, osmoregulation and reproduction to create the optimal response to xeric conditions. These hypotheses can be used as the basis for future studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-366
Number of pages10
JournalIntegrative Zoology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Physiological adaptations of small mammals to desert ecosystems.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this