Coping with Thermal Challenges: Physiological Adaptations to Environmental Temperatures
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Temperature profoundly influences physiological responses in animals, primarily due to the effects on biochemical reaction rates. Since physiological responses are often exemplified by their rate dependency (e.g., rate of blood flow, rate of metabolism, rate of heat production, and rate of ion pumping), the study of temperature adaptations has a long history in comparative and evolutionary physiology. Animals may either defend a fairly constant temperature by recruiting biochemical mechanisms of heat production and utilizing physiological responses geared toward modifying heat loss and heat gain from the environment, or utilize biochemical modifications to allow for physiological adjustments to temperature. Biochemical adaptations to temperature involve alterations in protein structure that compromise the effects of increased temperatures on improving catalytic enzyme function with the detrimental influences of higher temperature on protein stability. Temperature has acted to shape the responses of animal proteins in manners that generally preserve turnover rates at animals’ normal, or optimal, body temperatures. Physiological responses to cold and warmth differ depending on whether animals maintain elevated body temperatures (endothermic) or exhibit minimal internal heat production (ectothermic). In both cases, however, these mechanisms involve regulated neural and hormonal over heat flow to the body or heat flow within the body. Examples of biochemical responses to temperature in endotherms involve metabolic uncoupling mechanisms that decrease metabolic efficiency with the outcome of producing heat, whereas ectothermic adaptations to temperature are best exemplified by the numerous mechanisms that allow for the tolerance or avoidance of ice crystal formation at temperatures below 0°C.
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