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Thermoregulatory and Metabolic Control of Animals
All animals require oxygen to maintain aerobic metabolism and ultimately to survive. Nonetheless, there are many situations such as intertidal zones, ice-covered lakes, high altitude, and underground burrows, where oxygen can be limiting. This is referred to as hypoxia.
Animals possess numerous adaptations for coping with these kinds of environmental stresses. The goal of my research program is to understand how animals control their metabolism and body temperature during times when a high metabolic rate or high body temperature is impossible or inefficient to sustain, such as seen during hypoxia, hypothermia, hibernation, torpor or sleep.
Currently, where this control resides within the body is unknown. Cells and tissues have built-in mechanisms for regulating metabolism, but the role of the brain in acting as the body's over-riding metabolic control centre is less well known.
Using a Comparative Physiological approach, I study animals that have naturally evolved physiological defence mechanisms for coping with hypoxia. We are also interested in understanding how animals utilise temperature to alter their metabolic needs. It is well known that in the cold, metabolic processes slow down which allows hibernating animals to survive long winters without food.
When faced with hypoxia animals actually prefer lower body temperatures and metabolism, implying a neural mechanism to this process. In other words, the brain's thermostat is lowered in hypoxia. Understanding this process will shed light on how animals modify and manipulate body temperature and metabolism and improve our understanding of how the body maintains thermal homeostasis.