Effects of altitude and temperature on organ phenotypic plasticity along an altitudinal gradient

K A Hammond, J Szewczak, E Krol

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    Abstract

    Small mammals living in high-altitude environments must endure decreased ambient temperatures and hypoxic conditions relative to sea-level environments. Previously, it was noted that heart, lung and digestive tract masses and blood hematocrit increase along an altitudinal gradient in small mammals. Increases in digestive organ mass were attributed to lower ambient temperatures and greater food intake, and increases in lung mass and hematocrit were attributed to hypoxia, but these assumptions were not explicitly tested. In addition, it was not clear whether changes in heart and lung mass were a function of an increase in organ blood content or of an increase in organ tissue mass. We used captive deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus sonoriensis) to determine the relative effects of ambient temperature and oxygen concentration (P-O2) on organ mass and blood hematocrit along an altitudinal gradient. We also exsanguinated hearts and lungs to determine whether changes in mass were associated with the blood content or with increases in tissue mass, We found that small intestine mass was, as expected, correlated positively with energy intake and negatively with ambient temperature. Heart mass was also negatively correlated with temperature, Lung mass and hematocrit were, as expected, positively correlated with altitude (and P-O2). Interestingly, the masses of both small intestine and kidney were negatively correlated with altitude, For kidney mass, this correlation was apparent in cold-exposed mice but not in warm-exposed mice. We also found that changes in both heart and lung mass were mainly a function of changes in tissue mass rather than blood content. These data show that different abiotic variables have different effects on organ masses at high altitude, but also that phenotypic plasticity in response to cold temperatures and low oxygen pressures at altitude is widespread across several different organ systems, suggesting a general elevated whole-body response.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1991-2000
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Volume204
    Publication statusPublished - 2001

    Keywords

    • deer mouse
    • Peromyscus maniculatus sonoriensis
    • phenotypic plasticity
    • lung mass
    • heart mass
    • small intestine mass
    • altitude
    • temperature
    • hypoxia
    • MICE PEROMYSCUS-MANICULATUS
    • SUSTAINED METABOLIC-RATE
    • AEROBIC PERFORMANCE VARIATION
    • DEER MICE
    • HEMOGLOBIN POLYMORPHISMS
    • CALIDRIS-CANUTUS
    • BODY-COMPOSITION
    • COLD-EXPOSURE
    • DIET QUALITY
    • ALPHA-GLOBIN

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