Private heat for public warmth: how huddling shapes individual thermogenic responses of rabbit pups

Gilbert, C., McCafferty, D.J. , Giroud, S., Ancel, A. and Blanc, S. (2012) Private heat for public warmth: how huddling shapes individual thermogenic responses of rabbit pups. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33553. (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033553)

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<p><b>Background:</b> Within their litter, young altricial mammals compete for energy (constraining growth and survival) but cooperate for warmth. The aim of this study was to examine the mechanisms by which huddling in altricial infants influences individual heat production and loss, while providing public warmth. Although considered as a textbook example, it is surprising to note that physiological mechanisms underlying huddling are still not fully characterised.</p> <p><b>Methodology/Principal Findings:</b> The brown adipose tissue (BAT) contribution to energy output was assessed as a function of the ability of rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) pups to huddle (placed in groups of 6 and 2, or isolated) and of their thermoregulatory capacities (non-insulated before 5 days old and insulated at ca. 10 days old). BAT contribution of pups exposed to cold was examined by combining techniques of infrared thermography (surface temperature), indirect calorimetry (total energy expenditure, TEE) and telemetry (body temperature). Through local heating, the huddle provided each pup whatever their age with an ambient “public warmth” in the cold, which particularly benefited non-insulated pups. Huddling allowed pups facing a progressive cold challenge to buffer the decreasing ambient temperature by delaying the activation of their thermogenic response, especially when fur-insulated. In this way, huddling permitted pups to effectively shift from a non-insulated to a pseudo-insulated thermal state while continuously allocating energy to growth. The high correlation between TEE and the difference in surface temperatures between BAT and back areas of the body reveals that energy loss for non-shivering thermogenesis is the major factor constraining the amount of energy allocated to growth in non-insulated altricial pups.</p> <p><b>Conclusions/Significance:</b> By providing public warmth with minimal individual costs at a stage of life when pups are the most vulnerable, huddling buffers cold challenges and ensures a constant allocation of energy to growth by reducing BAT activation.</p>

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:McCafferty, Dr Dominic
Authors: Gilbert, C., McCafferty, D.J., Giroud, S., Ancel, A., and Blanc, S.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Education > Interdisciplinary Science Education Technologies and Learning
Journal Name:PLoS ONE
Publisher:Public Library of Science
ISSN (Online):1932-6203
Published Online:16 March 2012
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2012 The Authors
First Published:First published in PLoS ONE 7(3):e33553
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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